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Audit report alleges corruption at U.N. weather agency

Audit report alleges corruption at U.N. weather agency

News allegations of corruption within the United Nations have surfaced in a confidential audit report that claims the 2003 election of the current chief of the U.N. weather agency was manipulated.
The report, obtained by The Associated Press on Friday, centered around payments to government delegates at the Geneva-based World Meteorological Organization, which coordinates the study of the world's weather and climate.
WMO hired Maria Veiga of Portugal, an independent auditor who wrote the report, in 2003 to investigate the financial irregularities, but fired her three years later for what it described as "serious misconduct."
The auditor, however, said she was blocked from pursuing her investigation, received intimidating phone calls and was threatened with legal action by one WMO official before being dismissed.
In a 65-page summary of her findings, Veiga said that Muhammad Hassan of Sudan, a former WMO staffer, skimmed some US$3 million from the agency while he was working in its training department.
The disappearance of the money was made public in 2003 when WMO handed the matter over to Swiss authorities. At the time Hassan, who by then had gone abroad, was suspected of having embezzled the money.
But according to the documents seen by the AP, most of the funds were allegedly used to influence the votes of about 50 WMO member states during the May 2003 election of the agency's new secretary-general.
The misappropriated funds were "used to pay travel, accommodation and pocket money of ... delegates of certain countries with WMO (on the understanding) that the delegates would then vote and act according to Mr. Hassan's and other WMO staff members' ... instructions," the report states.
Hassan's current whereabouts are unknown to Swiss authorities, and the AP was unable to contact him. But Marc Tappolet, the investigating magistrate of Geneva canton, told the AP that the Swiss inquiry against Hassan is continuing.
The purpose of the payments was to support the candidacy of Kenya's Evans Mukolwe, the report said. Veiga told the AP that delegates told her the idea was to draw votes away from France's official candidate, Jean Pierre Beysson, so that senior WMO official Michel Jarraud, also of France, could win the top post.
Mukolwe beat Beysson 85-70 in the first round of voting, but failed to win the required two-thirds majority in three subsequent rounds, and nominations were reopened. Lithuania then nominated Jarraud, who beat Mukolwe by 109 to 50 votes.
Jarraud had served for eight years as deputy to outgoing WMO chief Godwin Obasi of Nigeria.
"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," Beysson told the AP late on Friday by telephone from Paris.
Obasi, who allegedly had close ties to Hassan, has since returned to his native Nigeria. AP's calls to Obasi's phone numbers there went unanswered Saturday.
Jarraud said in a statement Saturday he was not involved in any wrongdoing.
"At no time did I attempt to influence the elections and I reject categorically any allegation in connection with this," he said.
WMO spokeswoman Carine Richard-van Maele said Veiga's allegations were "completely unfounded and defamatory." She added that the agency hoped the Swiss investigation would answer all questions in the case.
"WMO is convinced that the principle motive for the misappropriation of its funds was personal enrichment," Richard-van Maele said. "At no time did Mr. Jarraud have knowledge of fraudulent use of WMO funds. As soon as the fraud was discovered, Mr. Jarraud initiated action, as his top priority, to strengthen internal controls and procedures."
Veiga's report also mentions a dozen other high-level WMO staffers who were allegedly involved.
Her lawyer, Edward Flaherty, said the Swiss investigation into senior officials was blocked when Jarraud "refused to lift the immunity of the other persons of interest in the investigation."
The lifting of diplomatic immunity, which has so far occurred only in Hassan's case, is a precondition for a criminal investigation by national authorities against U.N. staff members.
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Associated Press Writer Frank Jordans contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-07-27 01:06 GMT+08:00