Digging Deeper Into the UN's WIPO 'Tech for Tyrants' Scandal

Congressional investigators of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs are pressing ahead with their inquiry into one of the flashier United Nations scandals of recent times — call it Tech for Tyrants — involving the quiet transfer of computers and related technology to Iran and North Korea by the UN’s World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), headquartered in Geneva. In a letter today to WIPO Director General Francis Gurry, HCFA Chairman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Ranking Member Howard Berman (D-Calif.) detailed their expectation that key witnesses from the WIPO staff will at last be allowed to testify, and that “we will soon be sending our investigative staff to Geneva to review documents and interview witnesses as the next step in our investigation.”


In their letter, the two lawmakers further detailed that  while they acknowledge that the UN Sanctions Committee on Iran found these transfers did not violate sanctions of the UN itself, they remain concerned “that a UN agency was used as a conduit to possibly circumvent U.S. sanctions designed to prevent the transfer of U.S. technology to North Korea and Iran.”

These transfers of sensitive technology by WIPO have been the object of considerable wrangling between congressional investigators and WIPO’s Australian chief, Francis Gurry, since George Russell of Fox News broke the story this past April. When the committee invited three WIPO senior staffers to testify at a briefing in July, Gurry refused permission to two of them: his senior adviser Miranda Brown; and WIPO Deputy Director General James Pooley, an American lawyer specializing in intellectual property law, and the highest-ranking American currently employed at WIPO. The third potential witness, Moncef Kateb, head of the WIPO Staff Association, received Gurry’s permission to testify, but declined, with his attorney citing fear of retaliation by WIPO.

As Ros-Lehtinen and Berman note in their Oct. 12 letter , WIPO commissioned its own “external review” of these transfers, which despite “a limited mandate and 30 day deadline” produced a “scathing report that corroborates this Committee’s concerns.” Following a meeting on Sept. 25 between the HCFA investigative staff and Gurry, then visiting Washington, the two lawmakers are requesting written assurances from Gurry that witnesses from the WIPO staff will be able to testify “without fear of reprisal of any kind.” The committee is also asking Gurry to provide by Oct. 22, subject to any reasonable restrictions, “all documents detailing the scope, history, and justification for WIPO’s technology transfers to North Korea and Iran.”


Stay tuned. The WIPO dual-use transfers to Iran and North Korea follow the 2007-2008 Cash for Kim scandal, in which the UN Development Program was caught transferring cash and dual use technology to the government of North Korea. That followed the Oil-for-Food scandal, in which the UN, in that case on a scale of billions of dollars, became a de facto collaborator and partner with Iraq’s late Saddam Hussein in violating the UN’s own sanctions. As far as the UN’s privileges and immunities providing cover for aiding and abetting rogue regimes, whether in violation of U.S. sanctions, or on occasion the sanctions of the UN itself, we have a pattern here that just doesn’t quit.



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