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UN audit identifies serious shortcomings amid alleged bribery

Failures by the UN

Serious lapses and due-diligence failures in the UN’s interaction with organisations tied to an alleged bribery scheme involving a former UN General Assembly president, have been revealed.

The United Nations’ Office of Internal Oversight Services’ (OIOS) have put together a confidential report which outlines the results of an audit by secretary-general Ban Ki-moon in response to charges against John Ashe, the former general assembly president, and six others.

Mr Ashe was the general assembly president from 2013-14.

In the March 22nd report, which is only available to UN member states on request, gave the UN a partial grade of “partially satisfactory”.

Information in the report revealed that there were “important deficiencies” in the way the UN and its staff interacted with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and overseas UN employees.

A corruption crisis

Critics are claiming this to be the biggest financial corruption crisis to rock the world’s body since the Oil-for-Food scandal hit the world body amid the the tenure of Mr Ki-moon’s predecessor Kofi Annan.

Diplomats and UN officials alike have stated that this scandal clearly highlights the need for greater transparency at the UN.

In light of the irregularities uncovered, the OIOS has recommended improvements in internal US risk management and controls.

The UN audit revealed a number of shortcomings which include; a UN document improperly altered, travel expenses paid by NGOs against the UN guidelines and employees keeping iPads given to them by an NGO headed by an indicted individual.

Vetted deals

This audit comes following an ongoing US investigation which, since October, has resulted in charges against seven people including Mr Ashe, a previous UN ambassador from Antigua and Barbuda.

Mr Ki-moon was urged by OIOS to ensure that any outside organisation that the UN deals with are thoroughly vetted.
OIOS also stated that the UN should review any continuing relations with NGOs linked to the indictment.

Serious deficiencies

A letter from Mr Ashe to Mr Ki-moon dating back to February 2012, which was reissued for “technical issues” in June later that year, was the most serious lapse identified by the office.

US prosecutors have revealed that Mr Ashe received $1.3 billion in bribes from numerous Chinese businessmen, including real estate billionaire Ng Lap Seng.

It has been claimed that the amended letter was crucial in aiding Ng Lap Seng’s development plans which should have been cleared with Mr Ki-moon’s office first and then flagged as a revision, not a reissue.

Such revision to the letter included mentions of the Chinese businessman’s group as the leading partner for development plans in Macau.

OIOS have made it clear that commercial enterprises should never be included in offical UN documents unless they have qualified for an exception, which was found not to be the case in this instance.

The report stated that the irregularities “assume significance” in the context of the allegations against Mr Ashe and the role this letter played in the alleged scheme.

"It is therefore essential that responsibility is assigned for these lapses, and steps are taken to prevent possible misuse of authority in publishing official documents of the United Nations," it read.