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Leaked report details corruption allegations at U.N. weather agency

Leaked report details corruption allegations at U.N. weather agency

Details about alleged corruption during the 2003 election for the top position at the U.N.'s weather agency have surfaced following the leak of a confidential report from the internal investigation.
The report, obtained Friday by The Associated Press, reveals that the investigation centered around suspicious payments made by an ex-staffer at the World Meteorological Organization _ and concludes that the 2003 election for secretary-general was manipulated.
Details from the report _ which alleges that funds were skimmed from the agency budget to buy officials' votes _ first were made public by a Swiss weekly, NZZ am Sonntag, last Sunday.
However, the WMO denied Friday that the 2003 election of its secretary-general, Michel Jarraud, had been manipulated, and the auditor since has been fired by the agency.
Details about the corruption allegations come at a sensitive time for the United Nations. Earlier this month, new U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pledged to root out the mismanagement and corruption that dogged predecessor Kofi Annan during his time as U.N. chief.
In a 65-page summary of her findings, auditor Maria Veiga concluded that former WMO staffer Muhammad Hassan of Sudan skimmed up to US$3 million (euro2.35 million) from the agency's coffers while working in its training department.
Her report said the funds were used to influence the votes of about 50 delegates of WMO member states during the 2003 election of the agency's new secretary-general.
She said Hassan funneled money intended for training programs into external bank accounts, then channeled the funds to countries that hadn't paid their fees to the WMO _ thereby helping them recover their voting rights.
The payments allegedly were made to win backing for Kenya's Evans Mukolwe in a bid to push France's official candidate, Jean Pierre Beysson, out of the race and make way for a senior WMO official, Veiga told the AP.
"We also found some evidence within Mr. Hassan's documents that the misappropriation of WMO funds (was used) to support election campaigns," the report states.
It also cites evidence that the funds were used to pay for certain government representatives' travel expenses and hotels in Geneva, and even pocket money. Veiga's report also mentions a dozen other high-level WMO staffers allegedly involved in the corruption.
"They really wanted to get Mr. Beysson out," a European representative at the WMO told the AP on condition of anonymity.
In May 2003, WMO member countries elected Jarraud, of France, as the agency's new secretary-general by 109 votes to 50 for Mukolwe in the secret ballot. Jarraud, who succeeded Godwin Obasi of Nigeria, had been deputy secretary-general of WMO for the previous eight years.
Beysson, contacted by telephone in Paris late Friday, said he had been surprised to lose to Jarraud.
"I think Mr. Obasi ... wanted his deputy to be elected because he felt that Mr. Jarraud's election would bring a certain continuity of his work," he said.
WMO spokeswoman Carine Richard-van Maele denied that Jarraud's election had been manipulated. She called Veiga's allegations "completely unfounded and defamatory."
Veiga _ a Portuguese national brought in by the WMO to investigate the irregularities _ since has been fired by the U.N. agency.
Veiga claimed she was prevented from investigating further by lack of resources, legal assistance and even intimidation.
Her lawyer, Edward Flaherty, said the WMO cut off the investigation of senior officials "because the current secretary-general refused to lift the immunity of the other persons of interest in the investigation."
Lifting diplomatic immunity _ which so far has occurred only for Hassan _ is a precondition for a criminal investigation of U.N. staff members.
Veiga said she received intimidating phone calls and was threatened with legal action by one official before being fired for "serious misconduct." The agency did not provide details about why it sacked her.
Hassan's whereabouts, meanwhile, have been unknown to Swiss authorities since late 2003, shortly after the WMO fired him. The Swiss inquiry is continuing, investigating magistrate of Geneva canton (state) Marc Tappolet told the AP. He declined further comment.
In recent years, the United Nations has been embroiled in a number of high-profile scandals, including some involving its oil-for-food program to provide Iraq with humanitarian goods.
Swiss prosecutors also are investigating alleged bribes paid to contractors renovating the headquarters of the World Intellectual Property Organization.
And in August 2005, a former U.N. staffer involved in procurement for peacekeeping missions pleaded guilty to wire fraud and money laundering.
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Associated Press writer Frank Jordans contributed to this report.


Updated : 2020-12-01 14:27 GMT+08:00