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Protecting Whistleblowers since 1977

UN/WIPO: GAP Urges Protection of UN Whistleblower Who Reported Top-level Corruption

Staff, April 12, 2018

The Government Accountability Project (GAP) has expressed serious concerns about the situation of whistleblowers at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) for many years. GAP is now extremely concerned about the escalating retaliation against Mr. Wei Lei, who reported the corruption of a procurement process involving the Director General of WIPO, Francis Gurry. Lei is facing the irregular and illegal termination of his employment on 17 May 2018.

Lei, as Chief Information Officer at WIPO, blew the whistle on the corruption of a procurement process at WIPO in which Gurry inappropriately awarded a pricey contract to an Australian acquaintance. Lei testified as a key witness in the UN's Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) investigation into these matters. In their report, the OIOS investigators substantiated Lei's claims and concluded that "the established facts constitute reasonable grounds to conclude that the conduct of Mr. Francis Gurry may be inconsistent with the standards expected of a staff member of the World Intellectual Property Organization," and recommended that the Member States of WIPO "consider taking appropriate action against him." Instead, the Member States, including the US Government, decided to let Gurry off the hook. Worse still, in contravention of the rules and procedures, Gurry was provided with an unredacted copy of the OIOS investigation report, thereby exposing the witnesses' names and testimonies to him, including Lei's. Ever since, Lei has been subject to ongoing severe retaliation and harassment.

Now, in an apparent act of reprisal, Gurry has decided to advertise Lei's position without consulting him, even as he continues to work in it. Lei has been denied protection by WIPO's Ethics Office, which reports to Gurry—the very subject of the OIOS investigation in which Lei testified. In 2017, WIPO revised its whistleblower protection policy to provide a second review by the UNOPS Ethics Office; however, given the close relationships among UN Ethics Offices, it is unlikely Lei will be protected by the UNOPS Ethics Office, either. It is extremely unlikely that this mechanism will afford any protection before 17 May 2018, when his employment is scheduled to be terminated. Even if the UNOPS Ethics Office were to find in Lei's favor, Gurry still has final say over any recommendation for protection, an arrangement (common in UN circles) that allows the defendant in a complaint to also serve as the judge.

Gurry clearly has a conflict of interest in Lei's case, in that it was Lei's testimony that led the OIOS investigators to criticize Gurry's conduct. Yet Gurry has refused to recognize this conflict of interest and to recuse himself from any adverse personnel action taken against Lei. This likely constitutes misconduct on Gurry’s part and should be investigated. At WIPO, staff have been dismissed by Gurry for failing to report conflicts of interest.

Recently, a number of WIPO Coordination Committee Member States received a report of misconduct filed by Lei with the Chairs of WIPO's General Assembly and Coordination Committee. We have obtained an exclusive copy (click here for the report and its annexes). The allegations appear to raise some very serious issues with high-ranking officials within WIPO, including Gurry. If proven true, it is a clear indication that the Organization has been corrupted to its core.

The US Government has a responsibility to ensure reports of misconduct against the senior management of international organizations are subject to prompt independent assessment and investigation, and that the whistleblowers and witnesses are fully protected from retaliation. 

WIPO has also denied Lei external arbitration, which is a requirement under the Section 7048 of the Consolidated Appropriations Act. It is clear from Lei's case and other whistleblower cases that, under Gurry's leadership, WIPO is failing to implement best practice for the protection of whistleblowers, under Section 7048 of the Consolidated Appropriations Act, and GAP welcomes the US Secretary of State's decision to continue to withhold funding from WIPO. This does not, however, absolve the US Government from its responsibility toward the WIPO whistleblowers and witnesses in the OIOS investigation. As the US Government called for the investigation into Gurry’s misconduct, it bears special responsibility for the protection of Lei and other key witnesses in that investigation.