UN announces disciplinary measures against two staffers linked to Oil-for-Food
The United Nations today announced the start of disciplinary procedures against two staff members named in a recent preliminary report by an independent panel probing allegations of corruption and mismanagement in the UN Oil-for-Food programme for Iraq.
Following through on Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s pledge to take prompt steps in response to findings by the Independent Inquiry Committee (IIC), the UN has suspended the former head of the multi-billion dollar relief effort, Benon Sevan, as well Joseph Stephanides, who at the time served as Chief of the Sanctions Branch and Deputy Director of the Security Council Affairs Division.
The IIC, headed by former United States Federal Reserve Board Chairman Paul Volcker, last week reported that Mr. Sevan repeatedly solicited allocations of oil under the programme and by so doing “created a grave and continuing conflict of interest.” The report did not rule on whether the UN official had personally profited.
Through his lawyers, Mr. Sevan has denied any wrongdoing. The lawyers said in a statement that the 40-year UN veteran was being scapegoated because of “massive political pressure” and declared that he “never took a penny.”
The findings concerning Mr. Stephanides are widely considered to differ greatly in scope and seriousness from those about Mr. Sevan. The IIC said that a UN Steering Committee “prejudiced and pre-empted the competitive process in a manner that rejected the lowest qualified bidder” with the “active participation” of Mr. Stephanides.
UN spokesman Fred Eckhard announced that both Mr. Sevan and Mr. Stephanides will receive by Wednesday official letters which outline the internal charges against them.
They will have two weeks to respond before the administration takes its final decision on the appropriate sanction. There is a broad range of disciplinary measures that can be taken, including summary dismissal.
In accordance with standard procedure, both men are being suspended with pay. In the case of Mr. Stephanides, that would amount to his regular salary, while Mr. Sevan, who had been due to retire, will receive the token $1-a-year salary he is being paid for the duration of the inquiry.
“This is only the beginning of a disciplinary procedure, respectful of due process,” Mr. Eckhard said.
“At the beginning, when allegations are made against staff members, the Secretary-General would have the option of suspending without pay or suspending with pay,” he explained. “Because this is the beginning of a process in which those accused can defend themselves, normally the suspension is with pay so as not to prejudge the outcome, and that’s what is being done in this case as well.”
They are not to come on to UN premises, “unless it is in connection with summoning their defence, which they have 14 days to present in writing,” Mr. Eckhard said.
On the issue of diplomatic immunity, the spokesman noted: “Neither Mr. Sevan nor Mr. Stephanides have had any criminal charges laid at their doorstep by the Volcker commission, although Mr. Volcker did say his inquiry into Mr. Sevan was continuing.”
The issue of immunity comes into play only when there is a prosecutable criminal allegation. In a statement issued after the Volcker findings were announced last Thursday, Mr. Annan pledged the United Nations’ cooperation with national law enforcement authorities pursuing any charges, and that he would waive the diplomatic immunity of the staff member concerned “should any findings of the Inquiry give rise to criminal charges.”
So far no national authority has alleged criminal activity by Mr. Sevan.