Auditors rebuke U.N. development agency after U.S. indictments

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - An internal U.N. Development Program audit published on Tuesday gave the agency an “unsatisfactory” rating for its management of the U.N. Office for South-South Cooperation, saying it failed to properly vet a donor linked to a bribery scandal.

The UNDP carried out the audit of its Office for South-South Cooperation in response to U.S. charges against John Ashe, General Assembly president in 2013-2014, and six other people over an alleged bribery scheme. The main UN internal investigations office last month released a related but separate audit of the United Nations interaction with groups linked to the scandal but that audit did not touch on the UNDP. It also recommended improvements.

The UNDP, an autonomous United Nations agency with its own budget that focuses on development projects, said the agency’s Office of Audit and Investigations (OAI) found a number of management shortcomings at the Office for South-South Cooperation (OSSC).

The “unsatisfactory” grade was because auditors found “internal controls, government and risk-management processes were either not established or not functioning well,” it said.

The OSSC had received $1.5 million last May from Macau-based Sun Kian Ip Group, headed by billionaire Macau real estate developer Ng Lap Seng.

Ng and six others were charged by the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan for alleged involvement in a scheme to get John Ashe, U.N. General Assembly President in 2013-14 and former ambassador of Antigua and Barbuda, $1.3 million in bribes to build a U.N.-sponsored conference center in Macau.

The auditors found that OSSC had not properly vetted Sun Kian Ip.

“The donor’s risk assessment performed by the Office at the time of receiving the $1.5 million contribution was ineffective,” the audit said.

It said the risk assessment did not identify potential concerns about partnering with Sun Kian Ip. The auditors themselves conducted an internet search that yielded news articles about Ng that would have appeared and should have raised red flags.

“The Office had performed a web search as part of its risk assessment but this did not seem to have yielded the same results,” the audit said.

A U.N. spokesman said last year that none of the money was misused. The audit said $1.1 million of the donation was unused.

The auditors noted that the OSSC had “unclear accountability and reporting lines,” an inadequate organizational structure, poor internal controls, weak personnel and travel management, inadequate handling of expenses and accounts receivable and other shortcomings.

The audit recommended addressing all of the weaknesses identified.

A U.N. task force has recommended overhauling the office of the president General Assembly in the wake of the bribery scandal.

Reporting by Louis Charbonneau; Editing by Andrew Hay