The Rosett Report

Flash Alert on the UN: Stop Them Before They Shred Again

You might suppose that with inquiries underway into the scandals surrounding the UN Development Program activities in tyrannies such as Burma and North Korea, the UNDP would be at pains to preserve its records for investigators. After all, when the UNDP Cash-for-Kim scandal broke in January, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon promised to get to the bottom of it, and the UNDP’s number two man, Ad Melkert, promised full transparency, saying “You ain’t seen nothing yet.”

Guess again. Shades of the grand shredding that went on three years ago in Kofi Annan’s executive suite as the UN’s Oil-for-Food inquiry revved up, it turns out the UNDP, flagship agency of the UN, has been quietly arranging to scrap computer equipment that might just contain some awfully interesting records. Internal UNDP documents show that in September the UNDP approved an arrangement to dispose of a batch of used computer equipment, including 11 servers, 4 scanners and 6 printers — all on grounds that the items were bought “in or before 1999,” could not be sold on the used market, and “it would take a lot of our resources to donate this equipment.” See item #2 in this UNDP document, and check out this “Headquarters Request for Asset Disposal…” .

We don’t know what’s on these 11 servers, or what has flowed through the 6 printers over the years. Nor do we know what else, if anything, the UNDP in the name of housecleaning might be flushing down the Memory Hole. But surely it’s worth finding out? If this equipment holds any records whatsoever, it is highly relevant to any serious inquiry that these servers could have been used starting as early as the 1990s, and onward, which for the UNDP was a busy time in Pyongyang. For instance, that would cover at least part of the time frame in which the UNDP was shoveling money to its Pyongyang office via Macau’s Banco Delta Asia — a bank later designated by the U.S. Treasury as “willing to turn a blind eye to illicit activity, notably by its North Korean-related clients,” as detailed in March, 2007 by Treasury’s Stuart Levey, Under-Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence.

Even if these servers and related equipment had nothing directly to do with North Korea, it is worth keeping in mind that the UNDP runs a global network — in which many projects interconnect. Is it possible these aging computer servers might have been involved in any of the exchanges involving counterfeit U.S. $100 bills in the UNDP’s Pyongyang office safe? Or do they perhaps document any portion of the flow of resources, via the UNDP, to Kim Jong Il’s regime?

Or did these servers perhaps have some relevance to the period in which Kofi Annan’s special adviser and envoy to the Korean peninsula, Maurice Strong, was visiting Pyongyang and arranging energy-related projects with North Korea via his Kofi-Annan-approved backshop, the Costa Rica-based University for Peace?

It is of course possible that this computer equipment contains nothing but acres of tedious UN bureaucratese, and the UNDP is just trying to clear up some clutter. But is that a sure bet? There was something seriously wrong enough with the UNDP operation in North Korea that after Cash-for-Kim spilled into the media in January, the UNDP in March made the extraordinary move of closing down its Pyongyang office. Even more curious, North Korea — while wide open to UN aid — has refused to allow UN auditors in to investigate operations of the UNDP’s former operations in Pyongyang (or so the UN tells us). And somehow the UNDP has been unable to ship some of its office files out of North Korea so auditors can review them in New York. Instead, we are told by the UNDP that these files are now sitting safe and sound (and unaudited) in the offices of the UN’s World Food Program in Pyongyang.

Somehow, the UNDP seems incapable of extracting its own files from within the borders of North Korea, a UN aid client. That is especially weird, because there was apparently no problem about shipping (at exorbitant cost) U.S.-bashing books into North Korea, courtesy of the UNDP, even after the UNDP had closed its office in Pyongyang.

About the same time, the UNDP fired a whistleblower, former chief of its operations in North Korea, Tony Shkurtaj. He appealed to the UN Ethics Office, which determined that he had a legitimate grievance and deserved whistleblower protection. The UNDP rejected that finding, by way of rejecting any jurisdiction by the UN Ethics Office (which was supposed to have been one of Kofi Annan’s landmark reforms). Ban Ki-moon, who had initially promised a system-wide audit, and has been reneging all year on that promise, signed right on to the notion that the UNDP could blithely ignore the Ethics Office of the UN Secretariat. And the UNDP, in the grand UN tradition of Conflicts-of-Interest-R-Us, then announced it would hold its own inquiry into allegations of UNDP abuse.

Which brings us back to that UNDP computer equipment slated for quiet disposal. With UN auditors apparently barred from visiting North Korea to look into the UNDP’s former operations there, one might naturally hope the UN — and the UNDP management in particular — would be eager to preserve anything that might help provide a record of UNDP communications and office records going back to the 1990s.

But here we are, with the UNDP, while conducting its own inquiry into itself, arranging to scrap the servers of those years in which millions in hard cash were allegedly flowing through the UNDP — against UN rules — to Kim Jong Il, while counterfeit U.S. banknotes — against UN rules (and U.S. sovereign interests) –were reposing in the UNDP Pyongyang office safe.

If the UNDP’s problem is storage space, I’d guess there are any number of media outlets, not to mention congressional offices, that might be willing to clear some shelf space for those old UNDP servers. And if the problem really is, as the UNDP internal document says (linked above), that it would take a lot of UN resources to donate this equipment, surely there are a couple of tech-wizard bloggers out there who might be willing to help the UNDP warehouse its old servers? — and save what might be irreplaceable but evidently inconvenient UNDP archives from imminent destruction.

Or, if the UNDP has any reason to suggest that the equipment has been destroyed already, would Mr. Dervis like to explain to us why, with so many questions still unanswered, the UNDP found it so urgent to dispose of these items?