The current U.N. leadership is unwilling or unable (or both) to deal with the staggering corruption that it seems to tolerate, if not actively participate in.

New U.N. Scandal, Same Old U.N. Scandal

This week, indispensable reporter Claudia Rosett exposed the latest U.N. scandal in a devastating investigative report published by

Like the Oil for Food scandal before it, the latest disclosure indicates corruption and conflict-of-interest at the highest levels of the world organization’s leadership. And just as it did with Oil for Food, the U.N.’s response to the scandal-du-jour has been to clam up.

Ms. Rosett’s investigation centers on Giandomenico Picco, an Italian diplomat and experienced U.N. official who is part of Secretary General Kofi Annan’s inner circle. Over the years, he has served as one on the world body’s most important envoys, leading missions in Afghanistan and Iran, among others.

Rosett reveals that “while serving as a U.N. under-secretary general and personal representative of Kofi Annan,” Picco was also chairman of the board of IHC Services, a significant U.N. contractor. IHC has also been implicated in a major bribery scandal involving the U.N.’s procurement office, where at least two key officials have been indicted by U.S. prosecutors for taking millions in bribes from U.N. contract-seekers. According to Fox News, IHC had provided a job to the son of the key U.N. official in the bribery scandal at the official’s request.

At a minimum, such interaction is a clear conflict of interest. In addition, it continues to demonstrate that corruption, mismanagement and unprofessionalism permeate the U.N. to its highest levels. And the whole saga shows, once again, that the current U.N. leadership is unwilling or unable (or both) to deal with the staggering corruption that it seems to tolerate, if not actively participate in.

When asked about the obvious problem of working for the U.N. and being the chairman of the board of a major U.N. contractor, Mr. Picco tried to side-step. He claimed that he never worked for the world body and IHC simultaneously.

But Rosett has the goods, and Picco’s claim of innocence is obviously false.  Rosett obtained minutes from IHC board meetings that show “Picco joined the IHC as a director as early as 1997, and served as chair of the board from at least January, 1998 until at least February, 2000.” During that time, “IHC signed or brokered a series of contracts with the U.N. Procurement Department worth millions of dollars.”

Meanwhile, according to Rosett, “Picco accepted an appointment from Annan in August, 1999 to promote an exchange of ideas among nations and diverse cultures.” Picco’s work continued until some time after Annan presented a report on the subject to the U.N. General Assembly in November 2001. “U.N. records show him moderating a planning meeting on the premises in November 1999 under the title of personal representative of the secretary general, and continuing in that position through at least December 2004 ― more than a year after Picco himself now says he had stepped down.” As if that weren’t enough, a website for Picco’s consulting firm says he has been “a member of the U.N. Secretariat Policy Working Group on the UN and Terrorism” since 2001.

So, Picco got busted. And then he tried to lie about it.

And how has the U.N. responded? As philosopher Yogi Berra might say, it’s like de ja vu all over again. Just as it did when news of the Oil for Food scandal was first breaking, the U.N. is claiming everything is a secret. “In May, as Fox News began inquiring into his activities, the United Nations began its own investigation, which it now cites as one more reason for keeping information secret,” Rosett reports.

Rosett goes on to outline dubious connections between Picco, IHC and the Oil-for-Food program. And the evidence is overwhelming that Picco, a close advisor to Secretary-General Annan, is yet another U.N. official engaged in the worst kind of behavior.

More details of this new scandal will inevitably emerge in the coming days and weeks. But for now, the evidence continues to mount that the Oil for Food scandal was but one example of a much larger pattern of corruption at the U.N.

October 6, 2005
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