|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Today’s guest will be Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, who will brief you on his recent trip to Abuja, Nigeria, where his Office hosted a Round Table on Crime and Development in Africa. I would also like to warmly welcome our guests from the RTNDA, who are here at the United Nations for a couple of days. So welcome and we’ll have a chance to talk a bit later.
The Security Council has just adjourned consultations on Eritrea and Ethiopia today. The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Ethiopia and Eritrea, Legwaila Joseph Legwaila, briefed the Council on his latest report, which was issued this week. The Council is also expected to discuss preparations for next week’s Security Council summit, scheduled for the 14th.
**United Nations Mission for Referendum in Western Sahara
The Secretary-General has informed the Security Council of his intention to appoint Brigadier-General Kurt Mosgaard of Denmark to the post of Force Commander of the United Nations Mission in Western Sahara, and the Council, we expect, will respond shortly. The Brigadier-General has been on active service for 30 years, and his previous experience includes previous stints with a number of UN peacekeeping missions. We have his bio available for you upstairs.
Turning to Somalia, citing a steadily rising death toll, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, called Friday for an urgent international effort to stem the flow of desperate people who are resorting to ruthless smugglers to take them from Somalia across the Gulf of Aden in unsafe vessels. At least 150 people have died in the Gulf, including 25 reported dead on Friday just off the coast of Yemen, according to the United Nations refugee agency. And we have a press release available on that upstairs.
**World Food Programme
The World Food Programme (WFP) today warned that 430,000 vulnerable people in Mozambique would go hungry unless the international community immediately donated $19 million. Currently, WFP is reaching just over one third of that targeted population. Across the region, WFP still needs nearly $200 million to feed up to 8.5 million people in Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zimbabwe and Zambia through the next lean season, which will probably run from December to next April. Meanwhile, Jan Egeland, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, noted yesterday that the UN’s $88 million appeal for Malawi, which was issued last week, has received zero pledges so far. These developments come despite the Secretary-General’s letter on southern Africa, which was sent last month to 27 Heads of State, the European Commission and the African Development Bank, and which drew attention to the need for urgent funding to “avert a catastrophe”.
Turning to UNESCO, the UN Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization today reported that the Israeli and Palestinian National Commissions for UNESCO held their first ever meeting yesterday in Paris yesterday. The meeting was aimed at implementing reconstruction plans for the Palestinian territories and encouraging reconciliation through dialogue, according to the agency.
**Volcker Report Follow-up
To keep you informed on follow-up to Mr. Volcker’s report, the Department of Management has asked the Office for Internal Oversight Services to follow up on the findings of the report relating to procurement to see if any action needs to be taken.
The presidency of the General Assembly tells us that they will be continuing discussions on the draft outcome document for the summit. The core group met throughout the day yesterday, and is scheduled to meet this morning and this afternoon. And negotiations may continue over the weekend. There is a possibility that the President of the General Assembly, Jean Ping, might brief the press over the weekend. If that is the case, we will alert you through the lid list by e-mail if a briefing does take place. If you’re not on the GA e-mail list, please contact our office.
This afternoon at 12:45, the Inter-Parliamentary Union will hold a press conference to present the conclusions of the Second World Conference of Speakers of Parliaments. At 1:30 p.m., panellists participating in the third and last day of the DPI/NGO Conference will also brief you.
For next week, quite a number of press conferences. The schedule will be available upstairs. The one I want to highlight is at 10:30 am.. Monday, when the Secretary-General expects to hold his traditional pre-GA press conference here in this room. That’s it for me. Any questions?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Yesterday, you mentioned a number of steps the United Nations has taken to address the issues that came up in the Volcker report, including all kinds of new bureaucracies meant to do whatever new bureaucracies do. However, as far as punishment, only one person was punished so far, which is Joe Stephanides, whose matter as I understand is still standing as far as the Volcker Committee is concerned, while everyone else was let go or, as Senator Coleman said in the case of Benon Sevan, probably will never come back because he indicated the United Nations might be responsible for allowing him to go to Cyprus.
Spokesman: And what was your question?
Question: If you’re willing to address that I’ll give you one.
Spokesman: As I just told you, we’ve asked the OIOS to look into what needs to be followed up on the procurement side, so we don’t know where that will lead. Mr. Yakovlev is facing charges. Last I checked, the United Nations is not a criminal investigative authority, so that in all cases that’s with the national judicial authorities. We have said clearly that any time we’re presented with a request to lift immunity for someone to be prosecuted, we will do so and we have done so.
Question: Why haven’t you acted in other cases in the same forceful manner as you acted in the case of someone who, as far as Volcker’s concerned, may not even be guilty?
Spokesman: As I said, we’re following up with OIOS and national authorities all have the report and if charges are filed against people, then people will face charges and immunity will be waived. Mr. Sevan is no longer here, nor is Mr. Stephanides, and we’ll see where that leads.
Question: Mr. Coleman today said he anticipates more forceful actions from the Secretary-General. Can you stipulate more actions involving the report and involving investigations?
Spokesman: As I said, as a first step, we’ve asked OIOS to look into the procurement division. So actions will be taken now that we have the report.
Question: In the procurement division, can you specify whether there will be a specific investigation of Diana Mills Ayree? Also, there were several comments on the way Kojo Annan used Wagaye Assebe, Kofi Annan’s secretary, as one of his pet people in New York. Kojo Annan acknowledged he received inside information from Ms. Assebe regarding a pet project of Cotecna. Will there be any action taken about the fact that Wagaye Assebe was working to further Kojo Annan’s business interests in the United Nations regarding the Secretary-General?
Spokesman: No comment.
Question: None at all? Is there any accountability on anything in this Organization?
Spokesman: There is accountability. We have the conclusions of the report and we are looking. We’re moving right now on procurement. There will be accountability for those who violated the rules.
Question: How far can OIOS go, given the fact that it has no power? It investigates, gives its report and nothing gets done. What’s the point?
Spokesman: What happens with OIOS is that they investigate. If they find administrative violations of United Nations staff rules, they are charged with violating those rules. If they find criminal activity, they forward the file to the national criminal authorities for prosecution.
Question: The Volcker report makes the point that the United Nations staff rules bar United Nations officials outside the procurement department from having any contact with representatives of companies that are bidding on contracts. The Volcker report is quite specific that a number of United Nations staff had contacts with Kojo Annan by telephone during the bidding period while he was working for Cotecna as a consultant, or actually hadn’t even departed Cotecna at that point. These include the Secretary-General’s personal assistant, Ms. Assebe. They include Diana Mills Ayree, who’s no longer a procurement officer here but in Baghdad. They include Felix Downs Townsend. They appear to include Sanjaya Bahel, although he said he hadn’t spoken on the telephone, but Kojo was talking to somebody on Nora Diaz, his secretary’s line. Can you confirm that these people who were no longer in the procurement department or were only peripherally involved in it, will be within the ambit of the OIOS investigation.?
Spokesman: All I can say is that we’ve asked OIOS to look into the findings relating to procurement as a first step.
Question: Does the Secretary-General still have confidence in his personal assistant after providing, by Volcker’s account, inside information of a commercially sensitive nature to his son’s company.
Spokesman: I don’t agree with that view, but, of course, the Secretary-General has full confidence in his personal assistant. She has his full confidence.
Question: How can he?
Spokesman: The answer may not be in a way you find appropriate, but I’ve answered the question and I have nothing else to say on that.
Question: Looking into the procurement issues doesn’t address the accountability issues Volcker raised about Kofi Annan, Fréchette and others. When will OIOS turn its sights on that issue and investigate those glaring problems? Also, there’s talk of Mr. Volcker being called to testify in front of Congress. What is Mr. Volcker’s status in terms of his ability to speak openly, candidly and sincerely to Congress? Is there an issue of diplomatic immunity that needs to be addressed?
Spokesman: One would have to see the actual invitation from Congress. Mr. Volcker is a US citizen and I’m sure he will try to be as accommodating as possible. I can’t answer more because we haven’t seen the invitation or the nature of the invitation. As for the Secretary-General, he spoke on Wednesday in the Security Council and said he accepted the fact that the report was critical of him personally, accepted the criticism, and you all heard he received the full backing of all 15 Security Council members to move forward and move forward on the reform process.
Question: Has the United Nations been looking into the matter of the ACABQ Chairman arrested for money laundering? Where did the money come from? Was it associated with Mr. Yakovlev? Was it deposited in the Cayman Islands?
Spokesman: That investigation is being done by the Southern District of New York court in Manhattan. They’re in the lead on it and I’m sure OIOS is in contact with them so I will check.
Question: Any readout on yesterday’s meeting between the Secretary-General and Mr. Mehlis?
Spokesman: They reviewed the investigation so far. The Secretary-General will be writing to the Security Council asking for a 40-day extension of that mission. But the meeting yesterday was a chance for the Secretary-General and Mr. Mehlis to take stock of the investigation so far.
Question: Is Mr. Assad coming?
Spokesman: He’s inscribed on the speakers’ list, but you should check with the Syrian mission.
Question: Senator Coleman once again called for Kofi Annan to step down, says he can’t have proper reform with a man who’s incapable of administering good management at the Organization he’s spearheading. Did the Secretary-General ask to speak to Mr. Coleman? He was in the Building. Was there an attempt at communication? What is the Secretary-General’s position on what
Mr. Coleman is saying?
Spokesman: We’re happy Mr. Coleman came here and he spoke to all of you in front of a United Nations backdrop. I know of no planned meeting between the Secretary-General and Mr. Coleman. I think he is seeing a number of other United Nations officials and we can try to get you some details on that. In terms of calls for resignation, as I said, the Secretary-General continues to enjoy the solid backing of the Member States and that was demonstrated in the Security Council meeting on Wednesday.
Question: Mr. Coleman said a reading of the Volcker report and you walk away with the conclusion that the same leadership should not remain. Any comment?
Spokesman: No, everyone who reads the Volcker report has their opinion. The Secretary-General’s statement on Wednesday was clear, and he continues to enjoy the backing of the Member States.
Question: On Gillian and Ted Sorensen. The Volcker report finds that Ted Sorensen was hired by Samuel Vincent, who in federal court pleaded guilty to being an illegal foreign agent for Saddam Hussein, that Ted Sorensen was hired to provide legal advice in setting up the oil-for-food programme, at a time when his wife, Gillian Sorensen, was a special adviser to the Secretary-General. Can you tell us whether that is a violation of any United Nations conflict of interest rules?
Spokesman: I’ll have to look at the report. As I said, the report is being looked at in terms of its recommendations to move forward on reform and in terms of actions to be taken.
Question: This has nothing to do with the procurement department.
Spokesman: It’s one step at a time. When we have something more to announce, we’ll announce it.
Question: Are you taking any measures to deal with that fact that by Volcker’s account there are at least $79 million worth of contracts out there, which are involved in the bribery cases now going through the Southern District court in New York? In other words, you have contractors working right now with the United Nations who take bribes, if the plea bargain and indictment are correct.
Spokesman: Obviously, we’re in contact with the Southern District of New York Attorney. We would not knowingly use or employ contractors who are involved in criminal activities. That’ll be one of the things looked at in procurement.
Question: Is the United Nations transferring any more at all to Benon Sevan? Is there any contact, final checks, statements, any correspondence whatever?
Spokesman: The only thing is that Mr. Sevan is entitled to his United Nations pension. We have gone through this with other cases when people were dismissed and even faced criminal charges. We tried to withhold the pension, and the ruling from the United Nations Tribunal was clear that United Nations employees are entitled to their pension and it is not something we can touch. That’s a general statement. I don’t know what Mr. Sevan’s status is.
Question: Volcker said yesterday he would not appear in front of Congress if subpoenaed and he cited immunities. Can the Secretary-General lift immunities and will he in this case?
Spokesman: We will look at the type of invitation he receives. I won’t speculate on what will happen. In general terms, the issue of immunity belongs to the Organization. Only the Secretary-General can lift the immunity. That is the case with everyone.
Question: Even with something called the independent inquiry?
Spokesman: The independent inquiry worked under a Security Council mandate and was afforded all the rights and privileges that are given under the Convention on United Nations privileges.
Question: Do you as a United Nations staff member and your colleagues feel in any way betrayed by a leadership that refuses to accept accountability for something that under any other circumstances in any democratic well working country would be considered something for which they should accept accountability, and do you feel betrayed by the fact that the Organization you work for and the ethics you signed up to uphold are being betrayed by its leadership?
Spokesman: I speak for the Secretary-General, I do not speak for the staff.
Question: Why was it not announced yesterday at the briefing that the Secretary-General had written a letter to his staff?
Spokesman: It’s between the Secretary-General and his staff.
Question: All 10,000 of them? Why was it put on the United Nations website?
Spokesman: I may not have been aware of it at the time of the noon briefing, but the target audience for that is the staff. When the Secretary-General writes a letter to his staff, we’ll make sure the staff gets it first and then we’ll inform you.
Question: Next week all eyes are on reform. Why are we not hearing from Louise Fréchette, who’s spearheading the reform? Are you keeping her from us? Can we see her?
Spokesman: We’re not keeping her from you. She has no intention to speak to the press before the summit and the negotiations on reform are going on between Member States.
Question: That’s what we want to know about, reform.
Spokesman: The focus of that debate is amongst the Member States.
* *** *For information media • not an official record