The U.N.’s Investigation Wars
An FP investigation shows how a bitter internal fight is making it harder for the U.N. to police its own crimes, from corruption to sexual abuse.
Carman Lapointe, a Canadian national who serves as the United Nations' internal corruption watchdog, marched into the office of the U.N. secretary-general's chief of staff, Susana Malcorra, this past January with a provocative request. The U.N. Investigations Division, which she oversees, had grown so consumed by interoffice backbiting and score-settling, Lapointe claimed, that she wanted to shut it down and rebuild it from scratch.
Carman Lapointe, a Canadian national who serves as the United Nations’ internal corruption watchdog, marched into the office of the U.N. secretary-general’s chief of staff, Susana Malcorra, this past January with a provocative request. The U.N. Investigations Division, which she oversees, had grown so consumed by interoffice backbiting and score-settling, Lapointe claimed, that she wanted to shut it down and rebuild it from scratch.
Lapointe argued that the division had been hobbled by a bitter legacy of infighting by staff that had diverted investigators from their core mission. “It’s either them or me,” Lapointe told Malcorra, according to a senior U.N. source familiar with the exchange. “The only thing to do is to decapitate that division and start over again.” Lapointe subsequently developed a plan to target the Investigations Division’s director and four other top managers for dismissal.
The U.N.’s Investigations Division was never shuttered, and Lapointe agreed to serve out her five-year term, which ends Sept. 13, as undersecretary-general for the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS). But the exchange with Malcorra exposed roiling turmoil at the core of a long-beleaguered U.N. department responsible for preventing fraud and waste in an organization that spends billions of dollars each year and conducts peacekeeping missions in fragile countries around the world.
Lapointe, meanwhile, is struggling to maintain control over the ranks of the world body’s disgruntled and disillusioned crime fighters. Her top investigator has accused her and other senior U.N. officials of abusing their authority. In the past two months, a string of embarrassing stories about her department’s shortcomings has been leaking to the press. For their part, some of the U.N.’s top investigators have lost faith in Lapointe, accusing her of surrendering the independence of her office to accommodate members of the U.N. brass who have long grown allergic to the often unseemly and embarrassing scandals investigators uncover. The U.N.’s top watchdog, they contend, has blatantly undercut their efforts to hold senior officials accountable for wrongdoing.
In a blunt act of defiance, the director of the U.N.’s Investigations Division, Michael “Mick” Stefanovic, an Australian hired by Lapointe in the spring of 2011, went before a closed-door committee of U.N. diplomats in May to decry what he characterized as Lapointe’s collusion with senior officials to conduct a misguided leak investigation into a whistleblower who exposed the sexual exploitation of children by foreign troops in the Central African Republic (CAR). Turning the table on his boss, Stefanovic said Lapointe herself should be investigated for wrongdoing, according to a senior U.N. official.
Stefanovic’s complaint — combined with a whistleblower support group’s leak of damaging internal U.N. communications about the abuses in the CAR — eventually persuaded Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to establish a blue-ribbon panel in June that is reviewing the U.N. response to the CAR sex abuse scandal as well as the conduct of Lapointe and other top U.N. officials to determine whether they improperly sought to force out a potential whistleblower, Anders Kompass. Since the review was undertaken, the U.N.’s top official in the CAR, Gen. Babacar Gaye of Senegal, and the deputy high commissioner for human rights, Flavia Pansieri, have resigned. U.N. officials claimed that Pansieri resigned to address long-standing health problems. But they confirmed that Gaye had been asked to leave.
“I cannot put into words how anguished, angered and ashamed I am by recurrent reports over the years of sexual exploitation and abuse by U.N. forces,” Ban said after new revelations that U.N. blue helmets might have abused children as young as 11. Sexual exploitation, Ban recently told the U.N. Security Council, is a “cancer in our system.”
The troubles at OIOS mark a setback for decades of bipartisan efforts in New York and Washington to contain waste, fraud and misconduct at an organization to which the United States and other nations look to carry out vital services such as tending to the world’s refugees, responding to natural disasters, and keeping the peace in more than a dozen international trouble spots. The infighting has implications for U.S. President Barack Obama, who sees U.N. peacekeeping as a vital way of keeping fragile states from collapsing without the use of American troops. Obama is expected to use a speech to the U.N. General Assembly in September to push other global powers to contribute more resources to the blue helmets.
But maintaining support for the missions requires public confidence that U.N. peacekeepers are conducting themselves professionally in overseas operations and that the billions of dollars in taxpayer money that is poured into U.N. activities is not wasted. That, in turns, means that the U.N. internal oversight body has to have the trust of U.N. member states — and the world body itself.
Officials from the U.S. and other governments have credited the Investigations Division with carrying out hard-charging probes into corruption and sexual exploitation from Somalia to Haiti. For instance, Stefanovic, working with the U.N.’s top police official, Ann-Marie Orler, launched an initiative to use her officers in the field to collect evidence on behalf of his investigators in a case involving the rape of a Haitian boy by three Pakistani police officers. In the past, the Investigations Division has typically carried out the policing work on its own, leading to long, drawn-out probes that sometimes persisted for more than a year and a half. Anthony Banbury, a senior U.N. peacekeeping official, cited the case, by contrast, as an example that “the system worked as it should.” But U.N. officials familiar with the case said that at the time Stefanovic faced criticism from the peacekeeping department for harnessing U.N. field police. The U.N.’s leadership, meanwhile, backed down from plans to lift the Pakistanis’ immunity and have them face a trial in Haiti. Pakistan court-martialed its three police officers, but it did not prosecute a commanding officer who had interfered with the investigation by kidnapping the abused boy to prevent him from being questioned by investigators. The investigation strategy of using U.N. police to collect evidence has since been abandoned.
Stefanovic also launched a program to scrutinize contracts between the U.N.’s top humanitarian relief agency, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and private contractors in East Africa and the Horn of Africa. Facing an instruction from Ban to his top U.N. managers to restrict spending, Lapointe denied a request from Stefanovic to seek funding from the U.N. regular budget for the operation, according to one U.N. official. Instead, Stefanovic convinced the Norwegian government to pay for it. The case uncovered evidence that at least four contractors had falsified receipts and documents in an effort to misappropriate or divert funds for projects aimed at alleviating famine in Somalia, resulting in millions of dollars’ worth of fraud.
A 2013 evaluation of the U.N.’s response to sexual exploitation by its personnel found fault with various key players, including OIOS and member states that have covered up cases of misconduct by their troops. The report, which was authored by three outside experts, also found fault with OIOS’s Investigations Division, claiming its personnel have been slow to complete probes into sexual exploitation, with some probes often dragging out for more than 18 months. OIOS has also been reluctant to share information with other parts of the U.N. and has been unable to recruit qualified investigators to serve in critical overseas missions. For instance, OIOS had only one investigator posted in Haiti, and he considered himself “too junior to interview senior staff.” That official has since left the mission. In June, OIOS’s Inspection and Evaluation Division issued a report acknowledging “[e]xcessively long delays in completing investigations by the Investigations Division” between 2008 and 2013, with 16 months as the average time required for an investigation. The longest investigation lasted 62 months, while the quickest was wrapped up in a month.
The Obama administration is “deeply concerned about the apparent dysfunction that is going on in the Investigations Division” and hopes that Lapointe’s successor will have the managerial ability to “come in and clean up this mess,” Isobel Coleman, the U.S. ambassador for management and reform at the U.S. mission to the United Nations, told Foreign Policy. “If the ongoing infighting among senior managers is not addressed, the very mandate of OIOS could be undermined.”
Stéphane Dujarric, the chief spokesman for the U.N. secretary-general, said that Ban “attaches great importance to the work of the Office of Internal Oversight Services” and has “greatly appreciated the work and leadership of Ms. Lapointe over the past five years.” But he said that the “secretary-general is concerned about any impediment that may exist to OIOS fully and effectively performing its responsibilities.” He added that Ban supports a proposal for the General Assembly to mandate a review of OIOS that assesses “issues such as high vacancy rates, inter- and intraoffice dynamics, particularly in the Investigations Division, including working relationships.”
Lapointe said she does believe that “there is a lot of good work going on in the Investigations Division, and not just the work in Somalia. If staff thought they could get away with bad behavior and no one would be looking at them, we would be even worse off than we are now.”
“I do acknowledge that staff relations has been a problem in the Investigations Division since day one,” she said. But she added: “The big issue between me and Michael Stefanovic is he doesn’t think that I have any authority over him. I am the undersecretary-general of OIOS, and whatever my director can do, I can also do, and I can override and overrule him, and sometimes found it necessary to do that.”
Stefanovic declined to comment for this article. But Beatrice Edwards, executive director of the Government Accountability Project, which is representing Stefanovic, told FP: “Mick Stefanovic is now in the cross-hairs of the turbulence at OIOS, but conflict has always been a problem there. Management at that [U.N.] Secretariat has never protected OIOS — and ID [the Investigations Division] in particular — from the political pressures exerted by member states when their interests are threatened.”
Rooting out corruption in a global organization that consumes billions of dollars in American and other taxpayer contributions has been a preoccupation of Democratic and Republican U.S. administrations for more than 20 years. At the end of the Cold War, the United States and other powers looked to the United Nations to take on a range of new responsibilities, from reversing Saddam Hussein’s annexation of Kuwait to keeping the peace in Bosnia, Cambodia and Somalia. But there was one reality that was constraining American ambitions to harness the U.N. to manage the Cold War peace: There were inadequate financial controls in place to prevent the misuse of billions of dollars in taxpayer money.
“The United Nations presently is almost totally lacking in effective means to deal with fraud, waste and abuse by staff members,” Richard Thornburgh, a former U.S. attorney general who was sent by President George H.W. Bush to help reform an organization for a growing commitment to multilateralism, wrote in a landmark report on U.N. management in 1993.
His chief recommendation: an independent inspector general with the power to root out corruption. The U.S. Congress, meanwhile, was pressing for the U.N. to conserve spending and strengthen its capacity to prevent corruption. Lawmakers threatened to withhold funding if the U.N. failed to implement a series of reforms, including creating a high-level post for exposing fraud, waste, and corruption.
The effort faced stiff resistance, particularly from developing countries, which saw the American reform proposals as a vehicle for placing programs that were popular with developing countries under the microscope. The intergovernmental negotiations ultimately stretched out for about 18 months and were deeply adversarial, recalled Karl Paschke, a former German diplomat who served as OIOS’s first undersecretary-general.
“At first, it was difficult because the U.N. did not have any history of pursuing wrongdoing until 1994,” Paschke told FP. “They feared … it would be a tool for the Americans and some other industrial countries to crack down on programs within the U.N. that were beneficial to the Third World.”
Ultimately, the United States and other U.N. member states struck a compromise: The U.N. established the Office of Internal Oversight Services. According to the U.N. resolution creating OIOS, the new office would assist the secretary-general in “fulfilling his internal oversight responsibilities.” While it would have the authority to “initiate, carry out and report on any action,” it would “exercise operational independence under the authority of the Secretary-General,” an ambiguous mandate. It was also dependent on the U.N. departments it was to police for much of its funding and administrative support.
“I had to make it clear to countries of the Third World that I was not an instrument of the American or other industrial countries,” Paschke said. “I preached the gospel of the oversight people being partners of the managers and helpful to the managers to improve their performance and not particularly interested in making managers look bad.”
Since OIOS’s inception, the U.N.’s internal watchdogs have struggled to prove that they’re capable of conducting credible investigations into fraud and criminal wrongdoing. They have faced intense resistance from powerful U.N. member states whose nationals have been targeted in investigations. And they have received lukewarm political support from the U.N.’s leadership.
“A truly independent OIOS was an anathema to the culture of the organization and the powers that be,” Bruce Rashkow, a former U.S. State Department lawyer who worked with Congress in 1994 to help create OIOS, told FP. Rashkow, who would later serve as the U.N.’s top lawyer responsible for overseeing legal issues affecting the internal oversight agency, added: “The creation of an internally independent office to investigate fraud, abuse, and waste within the organization, despite lip service to the objective, runs contrary to the culture and long practice of the U.N., whose instinctive reaction is to avoid embarrassment of the organization at all costs.”
From the beginning, U.N. secretaries-general and their advisors have worked to “cultivate a ‘collegial’ relationship with the head of OIOS, a relationship whereby there would be consultation and collaboration in the handling of sensitive cases with the potential to embarrass the organization,” Rashkow said. Previous U.N. watchdogs, he suggested, have shown more willingness to assert OIOS’s independence. Unfortunately, he said, there is “some basis for being concerned” that Lapointe has “failed to maintain the independence of the office.”
The U.N.’s leadership, he added, “sought to maintain control formally or informally of sensitive investigations” while many U.N. employees “challenged OIOS’s right to investigate fraud and other wrongdoing.… These challenges have ebbed and flowed over the years but have never ceased — an endless battle by the administration and U.N. staff to rein in and, in effect, undermine the ability of the Investigations Division to fulfill its mandate.”
Rashkow said that OIOS would never have been created without the threat by U.S. Congress to withhold some funding to the United Nations. He said it has “invariably risen to the challenge,” conducting “truly independent investigations, at least until recently.” In February 2005, the office was credited with bringing down the U.N. high commissioner for refugees, Ruud Lubbers, a former Dutch prime minister, who stood accused of sexually harassing female subordinates.
Lapointe took issue with Rashkow’s suggestion that OIOS had lost some of its independence under her watch. She hinted that it was Rashkow, who had served as the U.S. point man on U.N. investigations during her tenure, who had interfered with her office’s independence. “Independence is important to OIOS, including from member states,” she told FP in an email.
The Investigations Division’s competence came into question when it largely missed one of the worst scandals in the world body’s history: the misuse and corruption that marred the U.N. oil-for-food program, a postwar arrangement in the 1990s that allowed Iraq to spend billions of dollars of its oil wealth, under tight U.N. scrutiny, to purchase food, medicine, and other basics.
After media accounts detailed potential wrongdoing, former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker conducted an 18-month probe of the $64 billion program that concluded that poor oversight had allowed Iraq’s Saddam Hussein to skim more than $1.7 billion in kickbacks from companies and $11 billion in oil-smuggling profits. “Our assignment has been to look for mis- or mal-administration in the oil-for-food program, and for evidence of corruption within the U.N. organization and by contractors,” Volcker told the U.N. Security Council in September 2005 after the report from the probe was released. “Unhappily, we found both.”
The oil-for-food scandal generated considerable interest among American lawmakers and provided fodder for the U.N.’s sharpest critics in the Republican Party. At one stage during the oil-for-food program, then-Senator Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) called for then U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s resignation.
But in subsequent years, U.N. oversight has fallen off the radar screen in Washington. Congressional experts still follow it, but not with the same zeal. “I would not say that nobody is paying attention anymore,” said Tim Rieser, foreign-policy aide to Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who said OIOS has lacked credibility in Washington for years. But “the fact that there have not been recent attempts to cut U.S. funding for the United Nations because of this suggests that people may have other priorities.”
The U.N.’s Investigations Division, meanwhile, came under sharp criticism from outside assessors who found deep disarray within the unit’s leadership, which was faulted for being autocratic. In June 2007, Erling Grimstad, a Norwegian prosecutor, concluded that the watchdog office was in such a desperate state that it should be closed and replaced with an entirely new unit.
The Volcker investigation turned up evidence of corruption that reached beyond the oil-for-food program. In response to failings identified by Volcker’s investigators, the U.N. established a special unit, known as the Procurement Task Force, to carry out an exhaustive investigation into misdeeds, including the payment of kickbacks for lucrative contracts, throughout the United Nations.
The task force, which was staffed by Volker’s former investigators and began operations in January 2006, reopened a number of cases that had been closed by the Investigations Division. One probe led to the June 2007 conviction in a U.S. federal court in New York of a U.N. purchasing agent, Sanjaya Bahel, for steering millions of dollars in contracts to a state-owned Indian company. Bahel had been cleared by the U.N.’s Investigations Division two years earlier.
Before the temporary task force’s mandate expired in December 2008, the U.N. proposed that its investigative expertise — which included a sophisticated forensic unit with experienced white-collar crime experts — be incorporated into the U.N.’s Investigations Division. And the U.N.’s then undersecretary-general for internal oversight, Inga-Britt Ahlenius, recommended that the task force’s leader, Robert Appleton, a former Connecticut prosecutor who had served under Volcker, be appointed as the U.N. Investigations Division’s chief.
But Appleton had run afoul of key U.N. member states’ governments, including those of Russia and Singapore, whose nationals were targeted by the task force. In December 2008, Russia took the lead in trying to drive Appleton and his team out of the United Nations. In the end, Ban killed the proposed appointment.
At the time, Ahlenius characterized Ban’s move to block Appleton’s appointment as the head of the Investigations Division as a flagrant breach of the division’s independence. Ahlenius, who was set to step down, argued that in granting her “operational independence,” the U.N. General Assembly had granted her the authority to hire her own staff.
In a scathing end-of-mission report, Ahlenius blasted Ban for trying to improperly rein in the Investigations Division. The Swedish accountant claimed that Ban and his top aides sought to undermine the independence of her office, initially by trying to set up a competing investigations unit under Ban’s control and then by thwarting her efforts to hire her own staff. “It was a fight about the independence of the OIOS, in particular the independence of the Investigations Division,” Ahlenius recalled in a recent telephone interview with FP. In the end, a U.N. administrative tribunal ruled that a senior U.N. advisory board, acting on behalf of Ban, had acted unlawfully by not endorsing Appleton’s candidacy. Appleton was awarded $30,000 in damages — but he didn’t get the post.
Rashkow, who joined the U.S. mission to the United Nations after retiring from the U.N. legal office, said Appleton’s ouster dealt a setback to the effort to reinforce the independence of the Investigations Division.
He said the move left investigations in the hands of his deputy, Michael Dudley, an American lawyer who was appointed acting director of investigations in January 2009. Dudley, according to Rashkow, “essentially brought investigations of serious procurement fraud and other serious wrongdoing to a standstill.”
Dudley’s conduct would later face scrutiny in the U.N. Dispute Tribunal, a U.N. administrative court that arbitrates personnel disputes. In October 2009, two investigators, Florin Postica, a Romanian investigator who was passed over for the post of acting director of investigations, and Ai Loan Nguyen-Kropp, signed a complaint alleging that Dudley mishandled and withheld evidence in an investigation into allegations that U.N. doctors had written fraudulent drug prescriptions.
Dudley went to his boss, Ahlenius, threatening to report her to the U.S. mission to the United Nations and the U.N. secretary-general “for incompetence were she not to protect him,” according to a U.N. administrative judge, Goolam Meeran, in a December 2013 ruling.
Following the threat, Ahlenius’s office reviewed the case, found no basis to believe Dudley had engaged in wrongdoing, and subjected Postica and Nguyen-Kropp to an investigation that was ruled “retaliatory” by Meeran. Dudley subsequently downgraded the two investigators’ performance reviews and transferred Nguyen-Kropp from an office to a small cubicle, according to the judge.
Meeran expressed surprise that Dudley was absolved of wrongdoing, noting that “Mr. Dudley admitted to altering and withholding evidence at the intake phase” of the investigation and that Lapointe deemed the investigation a waste of time and taxpayer money.
The case was eventually dropped, and both Dudley and Ahlenius denied that he had threatened her. “He was always polite,” Ahlenius recalled in a telephone interview from Sweden.
Dudley challenged Rashkow’s claim that he had stalled U.N. investigations after Appleton’s departure, saying Rashkow’s comments “are not factually incorrect.” He said the “statistical level of procurement-fraud investigations” remained constant for three years after Appleton’s task force was disbanded. A U.N. board of auditors, meanwhile, determined that the task force’s approach to fraud was neither sustainable nor the most effective response to such fraud, he said.
Dudley said he was never given an opportunity to “testify or comment” during the proceedings at the Dispute Tribunal or to “contest” Meeran’s “conclusions as factually incorrect and inconsistent with the principles of due process.” In the end, he said, the judgment was vacated upon appeal.
Dudley claimed that he had in fact given Postica and Nguyen-Kropp positive performance ratings: “Postica’s performance was assessed as meeting expectations, and Kropp received the highest rating of exceeds expectations.” With regard to the allegations of evidence tampering, Dudley said that a witness had provided him with a photograph of a narcotics logbook with the names of individuals suspected of misconduct. He said he merely drew a red rectangle around the names of suspects identified by the witness and then handed over the information to the investigators.
But the episode has cast a cloud over Dudley’s reputation at the United Nations.
Officials at the U.S. mission to the United Nations sought to prod Ahlenius into forcing Dudley from the Investigations Division, according to U.N. officials and diplomats. But she refused. The United States hoped that the appointment of Lapointe would provide a fresh opportunity to bring out fundamental change in the Investigations Division.
“We are disappointed with the recent performance of [the U.N.’s] Investigations Division,” said Mark Kornblau, spokesman for the U.S. mission to the U.N. in July 2010. “The coming change in … leadership is an opportunity to bring about a significant improvement in its performance to increase oversight and transparency throughout the organization.”
The effort to rebuild the Investigations Division was fraught from the beginning. Dudley, an American lawyer who had now served as the Investigations Division’s acting director for two years, was passed over for the top job by Stefanovic.
“This is when the difficulties in ID began to escalate,” Beth Fisher-Yoshida, an outside consultant commissioned by Lapointe to find out what was going wrong in the Investigations Division, wrote in a confidential February 2014 report reviewed by FP.
According to Fisher-Yoshida, a rivalry between the two top investigators had divided the Investigations Division into warring camps, with Dudley’s supporters feeling he had been unfairly bypassed for the top job. Others rallied behind Stefanovic, saying he was committed to improving the quality of work.
In the past two years, staff at the New York Investigations Division, which employs 34 people, filed at least 50 complaints, from workplace harassment to bias. Even the division’s director has filed a case alleging retaliation against subordinates. During the same period, 15 percent of the organization’s expenditures were spent covering sick leave. The U.N., meanwhile, paid out more than $300,000 in financial awards to settle just seven cases.
“Leadership is frustrated with the amount of attention they have to pay to address and try to resolve these internal issues that is distracting them from their main charge, which is to conduct investigations across the UN secretariat,” according to Fisher-Yoshida’s confidential assessment. At the same time, “the level of trust within ID has eroded, there are concerns that confidentiality has been breached and staff members’ levels of insecurity in the workplace are increasing because they witness others not being held accountable for their actions,” she wrote.
The United States largely sided with Stefanovic, working behind the scenes to have Dudley transferred to a different department. But they were unable to get Lapointe to act. Stefanovic decided to force matters.
Stefanovic compiled a large dossier on Dudley’s past to make the case that the American was unsuitable for his job. In March 2012, he filed a letter to the head of the U.N. Ethics Office, Joan Dubinsky, claiming that Dudley’s position within the Investigations Division posed a conflict of interest because his wife served as the head of the U.N. peacekeeping division’s conduct and discipline unit, which was responsible for tracking abuses in peacekeeping missions.
Dubinsky, who recently stepped down, responded that while the couple’s reporting channels are “separate and distinct,” there “exists the potential in the future for a perceived conflict of interest to arise.” But she recommended they receive counseling to “help them appreciate the types of behaviours that they must adopt in order to prevent or mitigate such accusations from arising in the future,” according to a copy of her confidential decision, which was reviewed by FP.
Malcorra appointed Dudley’s wife, Mercedes Gervilla, head of the conduct and discipline program after asking the then chief of human resources, Catherine Pollard, whether her appointment would constitute a conflict of interest, according to a U.N. official. Pollard said it would not, the official said.
Anthony Banbury, the assistant secretary-general for the Department of Field Support, said Gervilla “enjoys the full and unqualified support of the entire leadership of U.N. peacekeeping.”
“She has worked tirelessly and with absolute integrity in vigilant pursuit of the Secretary General’s zero tolerance on sexual exploitation and abuse,” Banbury said in a statement to FP. “There is nothing in her work or behavior that gives us cause for concern regarding her professionalism.”
In early March 2014, Stefanovic warned Lapointe that if Dudley was not placed on leave or transferred immediately, he would bar Dudley from coming into the office or accessing the Investigations Division’s computers. Lapointe pleaded with Malcorra, the U.N.’s chief of staff, to do something about it. Malcorra helped find a temporary assignment for Dudley in the U.N. Procurement Division. Dudley, however, has informed colleagues that he intends to return to his job in investigations.
Rashkow said that Stefanovic “was able to stem some of this and other mischief and damage” to the Investigations Division. But he said that Stefanovic was unable to “fulfill the promise of OIOS in dealing with fraud, waste, and abuse within the organization” without Lapointe’s support, “which was largely lacking throughout his tenure.” Asked to comment on Rashkow’s remarks, Lapointe wrote to FP by email that “Stefanovic has done little more to ‘stem the damage and mischief’ than to do more of the same himself.”
Stefanovic’s relationship with Lapointe began to deteriorate. Stefanovic believed Lapointe was not making a strenuous enough effort to oust Dudley or to insulate him from challenges to his independence and authority from outside and inside the department. In April 2013, another investigator, Roberta Baldini, filed a complaint against Stefanovic for favoritism after she was passed over for a senior appointment. The case resulted in a 21-month-long investigation. Stefanovic was cleared in January 2015.
Stefanovic believed that Lapointe had not come to his defense, according to U.N. officials. Once he was cleared, he launched his own complaint before the board and demanded that Lapointe herself be subjected to questioning.
For her part, Lapointe felt Stefanovic was becoming consumed by battles with Dudley and his allies, according to U.N. officials. By late 2014, she began developing a plan for the removal of Stefanovic, Dudley, and three other top investigators.
The ongoing sexual abuse scandal in the Central African Republic proved to be the breaking point.
In 2014, a senior U.N. human rights official, Anders Kompass of Sweden, uncovered alarming evidence that troops from Chad, Equatorial Guinea, and France had bartered military rations, including biscuits, for sex with destitute children at a camp for displaced people near the capital city’s main airport. The U.N.’s Investigations Division had played no role in investigating the alleged crimes, which were purportedly carried out by troops operating outside the command of the United Nations.
But Lapointe ordered an investigation into Kompass after top U.N. officials raised concerns that he may have leaked to the French government a highly confidential report documenting the alleged abuses by French troops there.
Stefanovic refused to carry out the probe, telling a committee of U.N. member states in a closed-door meeting this past May that his boss had improperly bypassed U.N. procedures to carry out a politically motivated witch hunt aimed at destroying Kompass’s career.
Stefanovic also accused Lapointe and several other top U.N. officials of misconduct, and he pressed for an independent investigation into the matter, according to a senior U.N. official. Ban, who also faced calls from the U.S. and other governments to bring in an outside investigator to investigate the U.N.’s handling of the issue, ordered a review this past June.
But the feud has since deepened.
Shortly after Ban set up his panel, a U.N. investigator who had served in OIOS’s Nairobi office division alerted Stefanovic that one of three panel members selected by Ban might have a conflict of interest.
About a decade ago, Hassan Bubacar Jallow of Gambia, the chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, came under scrutiny by OIOS investigators after the court’s human resource department alerted them that Jallow had claimed excessive financial benefits for his children’s education. Jallow subsequently paid back the money. As a result, OIOS investigators at the time decided not to move ahead with a formal investigation.
But Stefanovic recently ordered one of his investigators to review the matter to determine whether Jallow might be inclined to go easy on OIOS because it had previously decided not to investigate him. The details of the probe, which were considered highly confidential, were subsequently leaked to the Government Accountability Project’s Edwards, who also represents Kompass. Edwards detailed the allegations against Jallow in the Huffington Post.
In Edwards’s view, Jallow’s presence on the panel raised questions about its independence. She noted that Jallow had benefited in the past from the decision by OIOS not to hold him accountable for his alleged conduct. She added that Jallow’s tenure as the chief U.N. prosecutor for Rwanda was coming to an end and he could soon be in the market for another U.N. job, meaning that he might go soft on the U.N.’s top brass. Jallow did not respond to a request by email for comment.
Lapointe was furious that the Investigations Divisions had taken up the case, telling Stefanovic that the public disclosure has “inappropriately and likely irreparably damaged the reputation of a highly respected individual,” according to a heated email exchange between the two officials obtained by FP.
“It is completely inappropriate for ID [the Investigations Division] to challenge the credibility of a distinguished panel member, particularly in light of the fact that no investigation report was ever issued, and doubly inappropriate to second guess a decision made nearly ten years ago by your competent predecessor not to investigate the matter,” Lapointe wrote in a confidential July 10, 2015, email to Stefanovic.
“You have opened up a complete can of worms in terms of creating liability for the organization, and have damaged the reputation of OIOS in the process,” she wrote, instructing Stefanovic to remind his staff to ensure the confidentiality of the investigations. “I am ashamed and embarrassed by this blatant disclosure of files by our own staff members, which constitutes misconduct.”
Stefanovic hit back, telling Lapointe there was a range of potential leakers, including officials who carried out the original investigation.
“For you to lock in on ID is unwarranted,” he wrote. He also deflected her request to plug up leaks in the division, saying any effort to reinforce the need for confidentiality while the division’s conduct was being scrutinized by the U.N. chief’s review panel “may be seen as intimidatory.” Instead, he proposed that his staff be encouraged to speak with Ban’s panel and provide it with any documentation it seeks.
The irony of the request could not have been missed by Lapointe. In essence, Stefanovic was proposing that the U.N. investigators step up cooperation with a panel that is homing in on the conduct of a boss who is seeking their own demise.
Photo credit: Monika Graff/Getty Images
Colum Lynch was a staff writer at Foreign Policy between 2010 and 2022. Twitter: @columlynch
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In tying Washington to Israel’s war in Gaza, the U.S. president now shares responsibility for the broader conflict’s fate.
Taiwan’s Room to Maneuver Shrinks as Biden and Xi Meet
As the latest crisis in the straits wraps up, Taipei is on the back foot.