by Mark Trevelyan
A former employee of the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) has accused the agency of throwing him out for blowing the whistle on corruption in its operations in Somalia.
Ismail Ahmed, a British national, said the UNDP first transferred him to another office and later ended his contract and set out to blacken his reputation, including by accusing him of the wrongdoing he had tried to expose.
He also said in a detailed dossier, which he made available to Reuters, that the UNDP supported a Somali money transfer company with suspected links to Islamist militants.
This support included intervening to help the firm win U.S. licences and unfreeze funds blocked in Switzerland on suspicion of money laundering and terrorist finance, Ahmed said.
The company, Dalsan, collapsed in May 2006 and depositors lost more than $30 million, a blow to the Somali economy which depends more than any other country on remittances from nationals living abroad.
UNDP spokesman Stephane Dujarric said: "Clearly UNDP takes all these allegations extremely seriously and we are in fact investigating them thoroughly."
He said the agency's Office of Audit and Investigations had already produced a report on the alleged retaliation for Ahmed's whistleblowing. Its new ethics adviser, who began work on December 1, would review the report and decide what action to take.
An investigation team would fly in mid-June to Nairobi, where the UNDP's Somalia programme is based, he said.
"This man has brought some very serious charges which we want to look into completely," Dujarric said. "We want to make sure we get to the bottom of this as thoroughly as possible."
A U.S. Senate panel in January found communist North Korea had abused UNDP bank accounts to make deceptive cash transfers.
It said the agency was not complicit in or aware of the transactions, and cleared it of any financial wrongdoing, but identified problems such as poor controls and insufficient protection for whistleblowers.
Ahmed worked for the UNDP between 2005 and 2007 as an expert on Somalia's financial system.
His account is backed by the Washington-based Government Accountability Project. Shelley Walden, international programme associate at the non-profit group, said the UNDP had turned a blind eye to wrongdoing and damaged its credibility.
"The U.N. must show its commitment to accountability by urgently investigating this case and ending the intense retaliation against this whistleblower," she said.
Ahmed said that in March 2006 he submitted an anonymous complaint of corruption and conflicts of interest in the Somalia programme over dealings with a contractor. UNDP investigators cleared those involved of any wrongdoing.
Ahmed openly filed a complaint dossier in October 2006, but it was not sent on to UNDP headquarters in New York, he said. Instead it prompted a "systematic destruction of documents that could be used to provide evidence of wrongdoing".
He said he was moved from the UNDP Somalia office in Nairobi to Dubai but the agency did not obtain a work permit or residence visa for him. He called this a deliberate attempt to make his life difficult and force him to quit the job.
The UNDP allowed Ahmed's contract to lapse on November 30, 2007. Eight days before the expiry, he submitted a second complaint dossier to the UNDP's administrator and audit office.
Ahmed said a UNDP representative then launched a campaign "aimed at destroying my name and reputation in the Somali remittance industry", and that this led to the withdrawal of three job offers he had received from the industry.
UNDP spokesman Dujarric said he could not respond to specific allegations. "We're going at this with a very open mind. What we will find, we will find...I can't prejudge what the investigation team will find," he said.