U.S. urges probe into U.N. peacekeeping fraud report

UNITED NATIONS Tue Dec 18, 2007 2:42pm EST

United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Zalmay Khalilzad speaks to the media in New York September 26, 2007. Khalilzad called on Tuesday for a full investigation into alleged corruption in contracts worth some $610 million linked to U.N. peacekeeping missions.REUTERS/Eric Thayer

United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Zalmay Khalilzad speaks to the media in New York September 26, 2007. Khalilzad called on Tuesday for a full investigation into alleged corruption in contracts worth some $610 million linked to U.N. peacekeeping missions.

Credit: Reuters/Eric Thayer

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations called on Tuesday for a full investigation into alleged corruption in contracts worth some $610 million linked to U.N. peacekeeping missions.

The Washington Post reported on Tuesday that a U.N. task force had uncovered a pervasive pattern of corruption and mismanagement involving contracts for fuel, food, construction and other services for peacekeeping operations.

The United Nations has tried to crack down on corruption since the Iraqi oil-for-food scandal of the late 1990s in which numerous companies paid kickbacks to buy Iraqi oil in contravention of U.N. sanctions.

The Post said that in recent weeks 10 U.N. procurement officials had been charged with misconduct for allegedly soliciting bribes and rigging bids for peacekeeping forces in Congo and Haiti.

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said he was very concerned about the report. "We want these allegations to be fully investigated and where appropriate to have criminal references made," he told reporters at U.N. headquarters.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's spokeswoman Michele Montas declined to comment on individual cases in the report but said staff members accused of misconduct in Haiti and Congo were "under consideration in the internal justice system."

"The cases are being accorded the highest priority," Montas told a news briefing, adding that it was a U.N. investigation that had uncovered the alleged cases of fraud.

"The United Nations does not want in any case to sweep anything under the rug," she said, adding that Ban planned to present proposals on reforms to fight graft next year.

"COLLAPSE OF ETHICAL CULTURE"

A report by the U.N. Procurement Task Force, which was created in January 2006, gave details of investigations into contracts in various missions including Congo, Haiti, Liberia, Eritrea, Sudan, Kenya and at U.N. headquarters in New York.

"The Task Force identified multiple instances of fraud, corruption, waste and mismanagement at United Nations headquarters and peacekeeping missions, including 10 significant instances of fraud and corruption in cases with an aggregate value in excess of $610 million," said the report, seen by Reuters on Tuesday.

The report said the fraud in those cases cost the United Nations more than $25 million, which it called "a very conservative estimate."

The Washington Post detailed a case in Congo where a U.N. official was said to have accepted a $10,000 bribe, steered a lucrative contract to a friend and persuaded a U.N. contractor to paint his apartment and swimming pool at no cost.

The Task Force report described investigations into Congo contracts worth more than $25 million and what it called a "collapse of ethical culture and extensive corruption in procurement in the Mission which has existed for years."

The mandate of the Task Force was originally set to expire at the end of this year but Ban has urged member states to continue funding it for another year -- a request that has met resistance from a bloc of developing countries, the Post said.

The report said the Task Force's work had entered a "critical phase," yet it was having trouble retaining skilled investigators because they were only offered temporary short-term contracts due to budget issues.

"We support very much the continuing work of the task force that has uncovered some of the irregularities, improprieties that are alleged in the article," Khalilzad said.

(Editing by Philip Barbara)

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