DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL

10 August 2005

DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL

10/8/2005
Spokesman's Noon Briefing
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL

Following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.

**IAEA - Iran

Good afternoon.  Starting with an update from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), they have confirmed today that Iran has broken all the seals at its Uranium Conversion Facility in Isfahan.  That action took place after the Agency informed the Iranians that its inspection system was in place at the Isfahan facility.

The IAEA tells us that the setting-up of an inspection system at the Isfahan facility does not imply an endorsement of the resumption of uranium enrichment and conversion there.  IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei yesterday had called on all parties to continue negotiations, and on Iran not to take unilateral actions.

**Security Council

Turning to the Security Council today, Council members met in closed consultations on Sierra Leone.  They received a briefing from the Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Representative for Sierra Leone, Victor da Silva Angelo, on the work of the UN Mission in that country.

The Secretary-General, in a recent report, outlined to the Council his plans to maintain an office in Sierra Leone, once the UN peacekeeping Mission wraps up its work at the end of this year.

Also today, the members of the Council will hold their monthly luncheon with the Secretary-General.

** Haiti

The Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Haiti has welcomed the Government’s decision to extend the voter registration period to six weeks, until September 15.

The envoy, Juan Gabriel Valdés, said the move would widen voter participation in the November and December ballots.  Valdés spoke during a visit to a registration centre opened by UN peacekeepers in an area previously controlled by gangs.

Valdés also met with women candidates in the October and November elections and greeted a kidnap victim freed by peacekeepers yesterday.  The kidnap victim was the second one freed in 24 hours in operations designed to disarm gangs.

** Burundi

In Burundi this week, the Monitoring Commission of the Arusha Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation held its final session, after five years in existence.

Speaking at the end of the session, Carolyn McAskie, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, urged the Burundian political stakeholders to put in place a government which would bring together Burundians to safeguard national unity.

And we have a press release available on that upstairs.

**UNESCO

The UN Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization, known as UNESCO, today condemned the killing of an Iraqi TV producer, who was murdered in his home in Baghdad at the end of July.

UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura said he was outraged at the murder of Adnan Al Bayati, who worked for, among other media, the Italian network RAI.  Matsuura said the criminals who killed al Bayati are working against the legitimate right of their own society to determine its future with open eyes.

And we have a statement available upstairs.

**Landlocked Countries

Trade ministers from 31 landlocked and developing nations today wound up a two-day meeting in Asunción, Paraguay.

Under-Secretary-General Anwarul K. Chowdhury told the group their work was a “critical contribution” to the latest World Trade Organization round of negotiations.  He urged them to aim for a unified position -- to avoid being sidelined from the main thoroughfares of international trade.

And we have a release available upstairs on that.  And that is, in fact, it for me.  Any questions?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Just wanted to clarify one technical thing in the case of Mr. Alexander Yakovlev.  He’s a Russian national.  How do you determine that his conviction or his arrest falls in the purview of the United States courts or United States District Attorney?  Supposing somebody was a British national or a French national, if he was accused, he would still be charged in the United States?  Is there sort of an agreement or arrangement?

Spokesman:  You have to remember with Mr. Yakovlev… the case on Mr. Yakovlev was forwarded to the Federal District Attorney here in New York by OIOS because, obviously, following their investigation they had prima facie evidence that there had been a crime.  What usually happens in terms of criminal activity that may occur on UN premises, we forward it to the national authorities of where the UN office is.  So, obviously, here in New York it would be the US prosecutor.  In any other UN duty station, it would be the local authorities in that duty station.  That is the general guideline for these issues.  It has nothing to do with the nationality of the person being accused.

Question:  That is a set rule is what I’m asking.

Spokesman:  Those are the general guidelines.  His nationality does not come into play.

Question:  I don’t want to rehash old stuff too much, but I have a couple of questions on Stephanides and a couple of other things.  Stephanides, when he was fired, that means he doesn’t get his pension, right?

Spokesman:  Not at all.  As we’ve said here, so we will rehash this, the pension is not something that the UN can withhold from a former staff member.  There have been a number of UN Tribunal rulings on this, which has basically said that the Secretariat cannot withhold the pension of a staff member.

Question:  So then he will get his pension?

Spokesman:  He will get his pension.  That’s correct.

Question:  But he was fired without going through the process of a UN Tribunal, just based on the evidence…

Spokesman:  But, please, do remember that that is under appeal, and that process is ongoing. 

Question:  Well then, a similar, connected question… Is the UN in any way investigating whether it could punish or somehow seek compensation or do anything against former Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, since the first Volcker report essentially accused him of doing the same thing that Stephanides was fired for, i.e. meddling in a contract?

Spokesman:  All the activities by current or former UN staff members are being reviewed by Volcker and we will have to wait and see what findings they are, and if criminal charges are brought against anyone mentioned in the report.

Question:  I just wonder if the UN finds it a little shocking that, for example, Kofi fired… sorry, the Secretary-General fired Joseph Stephanides for something and then Boutros Boutros-Ghali was accused of doing the exact same thing in the reports.  Does that upset him, is the UN conducting any sort of internal investigation to find out the extent of the former Secretary-General’s complicity, or is it just one of those things where deputy heads will roll…

Spokesman:  I don’t want to comment specifically on that case but it’s clear that the activities of people involved in the “oil-for-food” programme, whether they’re former staff members or current staff members, are currently being looked at by Volcker.  That’s the UN’s investigation.  That is the investigation that will look at everyone’s activities.  From that, at some point, prosecution may or may not evolve from their conclusions. 

The UN’s administrative proceedings against former staff members are null and void.  The UN cannot do anything administratively against people who no longer work for the UN.  That’s why we said about Mr. Sevan, that the administrative proceedings against him stopped because he is no longer a staff member.

Question:  Two questions.  Is there any way in which the UN can influence, or seek to influence, the Cypriot Government?  Should there be an extradition request, because there was a statement by the Cypriot Government today that it wouldn’t extradite their nationals? 

On procurement, yesterday I asked if there was a sort of wider investigation into… because this has gone way beyond oil-for-food.  This seems to be regular, rampant, and across UN activities.  So what is the UN doing to investigate?  And to follow up on that, who bears responsibility for corruption in the procurement department?  Obviously, the individual concerned, but what about line managers?  What about people who are potentially negligent in checking and observing that these things couldn’t take place?  Presumably, to have access to that information and pass it on would require breaking procedures in some way.  

Spokesman:  The OIOS informed us that their investigation into Mr. Yakovlev’s activities continues.  Obviously, there is a criminal case going on against him and one would then have to judge whether his activities are done on his own or was part of something else.  But the OIOS investigation into Mr. Yakovlev continues.

Question:  But who bears responsibility?  Does it end with the actual individual or…

Spokesman: The investigation continues.  Once the investigation is complete, then responsibilities will be shown, so to speak.

Question:  On the extradition question?

Spokesman:  On the extradition question, it is a bilateral matter between two governments, once the UN waives immunity.

Question:  Is OIOS looking more broadly, can you say definitively, are they looking more broadly into procurement officials at the UN? 

Spokesman:  The only thing I can say on OIOS is that their investigation into Mr. Yakovlev’s activities continues.

Question:  So nobody else that you know of…

Spokesman:  I can’t say anything further on that.

Question:  Another question, on the pension issue, are you basically saying that there’s no way that the Secretariat can interfere in any way with someone’s pension, even if there’s criminal wrongdoing found by an official or by any staff member as a part of their job.  There’s no way the UN can touch their pension.

Spokesman:  It has been ruled that the pension cannot be touched.  It has been ruled by UN Administrative Tribunals and it is something the Secretariat has to abide by.

Question:  So there’s no circumstance under which the pension can be…

Spokesman:  No, a person’s pension is exactly that, his pension.

Question:  So, Yakovlev will get his pension?

Spokesman:  I can only repeat what I’ve said a number of times, that a person’s pension is his and the UN has, in other cases, tried to block people’s pensions and has been rebuffed by the Administrative Tribunal.

Question:  On the Sevan thing, obviously it’s a bilateral thing but the crimes he would be accused of having committed occurred while he was a UN employee.  Isn’t that sort of a unique thing?  The UN’s not just some local farmers’ market that can’t… The UN can’t do anything?

Spokesman:  We would obviously want to see… and first a reminder that no criminal charges have yet been filed against Mr. Sevan, but more broadly, yes, it is a bilateral matter but we would want to see people who are charged to face justice.

Question:  On Iran, anything further regarding the Iranian President’s suggestion that some proposals were presented to the Secretary-General?  Any more information you have about their discussion?

Spokesman:  No, the Secretary-General continues to follow that situation closely.  He’s in touch with ElBaradei.  He’s also in touch with the parties concerned.  He continues to remain convinced that the best path to an acceptable solution is that dialogue between the EU-3 and the Iranians.  But we may have something for you later this afternoon.

Question:  Has the visa situation for the Iranian President been resolved as yet?

Spokesman:  We have checked with our Legal Affairs Department, people who deal with host country issues.  They have not been notified, by either the Iranians or the US, that there’s any issue regarding that visa.  In general, it’s a bilateral issue.  A country would approach the host authorities, in this case the US, and request a visa.  We would not be informed, unless there was problem.  And so far, we have not been informed. 

Thank you very much.

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.