New Report on Fraud and Mismanagement in UN Peacekeeping

by Peggy McGuinness

The WaPo reports here on the UN task force report that has uncovered “a pervasive pattern of corruption and mismanagement involving hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts for fuel, food, construction and other materials and services used by U.N. peacekeeping operations, which are in the midst of their largest expansion in 15 years.” The Task Force, which was created under the auspices of the General Assembly 5th Committee (Budget and Administration) and run out of the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), found $610 million worth of fraud at UN headquarters and in various peacekeeping missions. The US has called for a “full investigation,” including criminal referrals — presumably in the U.S. or in other jurisidictions (such as Haiti) where the fraud occurred. The report does not appear to be publicly available, though it has been seen by some members of the media.

Predictably, not everyone agrees that the task force has been worthwhile:

Singapore has also criticized the task force for allegedly trampling the rights of one of its nationals, Andrew Toh, a senior U.N. official who said he was denied access to legal counsel.

“What bothers us is the task force itself seems to think it can be exempted from the same standard that it wants to apply to other people,” said Singapore’s U.N. ambassador, Vanu Gopala Menon.

Appleton maintains that there is no recognized right to counsel for internal investigations and that Toh never requested it. “There was absolutely no transgression of due process rights,” he said.

Toh is the target of a lengthy investigation into whether he improperly helped two Peruvian generals and a Canadian company, Skylink Aviation, secure a multimillion-dollar contract to lease two MI-26 Peruvian government helicopters for the U.N. mission in East Timor. The task force has been unable to prove that Toh accepted bribes, but it says it cannot close the case until it gets access to Skylink’s Swiss bank account used in the helicopter deal.

Toh was recently demoted, fined two months’ pay, and charged with misconduct for not fully cooperating with investigators and not complying with an obligation to disclose all of his financial holdings. “They have taken 22 months to look into allegations of corruption, they’ve scoured the world, wasted thousands of man-hours, spent millions of dollars, and they are unable to find anything,” Toh said.

Rooting out fraud and waste at the UN is crucial to preserving its effectiveness and legitimacy — perhaps even more so than in domestic institutions that enjoy greater confidence of the public. Let’s hope the GA does not fall to the pressure of some states to kill off the task force. Like the fraud and waste under the US occupational government in Iraq, corruption in UN peacebuilding operations, which often provide administrative models for post-conflict institutions, is particularly counter-productive. These investigations, however, are complicated by the availability of multiple jurisdictions, the potential of official immunity, and the real possiblity that the individuals charged with misconduct might be protected by their home states. (See this post on how immunity for UN officials works, and this post on why it might sometimes be a good idea for investigators to grant limited immunities to assist in prosecutions of UN misdeeds.)

I’ll post the full report when it becomes available.

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