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Secretary-General to seek probe of new allegations on UN work in DPR Korea

Secretary-General to seek probe of new allegations on UN work in DPR Korea

Ban Ki-moon
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today said he would seek an investigation of new allegations about the work of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), while an official from the agency supported the initiative but said on first review the claims do not correspond with its records.

“I am concerned of course about news reports, and new allegations, about North Korean activities about misusing UNDP funds,” Mr. Ban told the press in response to questions about reports that money was improperly channelled to items that can have military as well as civilian applications, that counterfeit bills were circulated, and that a whistleblower faced retaliation.

“I am going to write a letter to the Chairman of the ACABQ,” said the Secretary-General, referring to the powerful budget watchdog called the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions, “asking him to consider to continue this investigation, including the possibility of sending auditors to North Korea.”

Mr. Ban emphasized that he is “deeply committed to probing this issue.”

At a press briefing, UNDP Communications Director David Morrison told reporters that the agency takes the allegations “very seriously.” At the same time he said that on initial review, the claims do not correspond with UNDP’s own records.

He supported the Secretary-General’s call for a further probe, including a visit to Pyongyang, the capital of the DPRK, by the auditors.

The Secretary-General had ordered the initial investigation when allegations first emerged in the media that UNDP’s own internal audits raised concerns about payments being channelled improperly to the Government of the DPRK, including to its nuclear programme. The country has been under Security Council sanctions since October because of its proclaimed nuclear test.

Mr. Morrison said that audit “confirmed that we ran a very modest programme of $2-$3 million a year and that we did have controls in place, including regular site visits, to determine how the money was being spent.”

The new allegations were also aired in the press, but Mr. Morrison said UNDP lacks firsthand information on the charges. “We actually have no idea what the US [United States] Mission to the UN has in terms of documents,” he said. “We’ve asked for the documentation and there’s a meeting scheduled for later this week.”

While acknowledging that that “there are documents in circulation that are telling a very different story,” he said they do not seem to tally with the agency’s information.

“There is clearly something going on here that we do not know about,” he said, allowing for the possibility that new evidence would come to light raising concerns about matters that “we haven’t discovered on our own yet.”

UNDP issued a written response to the allegations, which include a claim that the agency transferred $7 million to a “North Korean Government entity called the National Coordinating Committee for UNDP (NCC).” It was also alleged the NCC transferred $2.8 million to “North Korean missions in Europe and New York, which used the money to purchase buildings and houses,” the agency said.

UNDP said its records show transfers to the NCC for 2001 to 2005 “totalling only roughly $175,000, most of which was used by the North Koreans to host agricultural workshops for participants from Africa and Least Developed Countries in Asia.”

The agency was alleged to have paid nearly $2.7 million to purchase goods and services from companies linked to a DPRK entity designated under US law as the main DPRK financial agent for sales of conventional arms and ballistic missiles. “UNDP has no record of any dealings with one of the companies,” the agency said, while acknowledging that in 2004 it procured $22,000 worth of workshop equipment and supplies from the other company, on behalf of UNESCO.

Concerning charges that UNDP procured “dual use” equipment for DPRK, including a GPS system, computers and accessories, and a mass spectrometer, Mr. Morrison said this was for a project to assist with “land use classification, natural disaster monitoring and crop yield estimation.”

On the allegations of counterfeiting, Mr. Morrison said the agency “knows of no instances of possible counterfeit currency linked to its operations in North Korea.”

The Communications Director categorically denied that UNDP retaliated against a staff member who voiced concerns over operations in DPRK, and threatened several others.

He said a former consultant “who served on a series of short-term contracts for UNDP, including in North Korea, has raised concerns over some aspects of UNDP’s operations there.” Those concerns were reviewed and the individual was interviewed by the UN Board of Auditors as part of the recent external audit.

“The individual does not currently work for UNDP, having left the organization in March 2007, upon the expiration of his most recent short-term contract,” Mr. Morrison said.