- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 29, 1999

NEW YORK When Susan Madakor, a woman of limited means and infinite nerve, noticed hundreds of thousands of dollars piling up in her checking account, she thanked her good fortune and began investing the money wisely.
Mrs. Madakor, 40, paid off about $30,000 in credit-card debt, set up a retirement account for herself and a college fund for her son, invested in a Laundromat and made a down payment on a liquor store.
Her only indulgence, according to her lawyer, was to redecorate her apartment in a public housing project in Brooklyn.
But the $702,000 windfall was not, as she claims to have believed, the jackpot from something called the "International Lottery."
It was a series of contributions from various governments to the U.N. Environment Program (UNEP) which has almost the same bank account number as her checking account at Chase Manhattan, America's third-largest bank.
"She appears to have spent over a quarter-million of the money," said Ken Herz, a spokesman for Chase Manhattan, who held that Mrs. Madakor should have notified the bank of the mysterious deposits. "We asked her to give it back so we could turn it over to the U.N. and she refused and so we froze the account."
Mrs. Madakor now is suing Chase Manhattan in Manhattan Supreme Court to unfreeze the accounts and make good on the resulting turmoil of bounced checks, besmirched credit rating and the collapsed deal to buy the liquor store.
According to her lawyer Michael Siegel, Mrs. Madakor is now "living hand-to-mouth on quarters from the Laundromat."
How the governments of Italy, France, Belgium, Finland, Turkey and Uruguay, among others, got the wrong account number is not entirely clear. Nor is anyone saying how or when the bank or the United Nations noticed the error.
"The point is, even if it was yesterday, it's still not her money," said Mr. Herz.
According to Chase, 13 governments accidentally transferred funds into Mrs. Madakor's checking account, which is only one digit off the UNEP account. The contributions began showing up in February 1998 and continued until last month, according to Mr. Herz and Mr. Siegel.
Mr. Siegel accepts his client's explanation about the lottery.
He said that several months before the wire transfers began dumping lire, francs and pesos into her account, Mrs. Madakor had invested $100 "in a scam called the International Lottery … where they'd buy foreign lottery tickets and she would get a cut of the winnings."
He described Mrs. Madakor as "a very unsophisticated woman, a single mother from the projects who didn't even know where half these countries were."
The Nairobi, Kenya-based U.N. Environment Program, meanwhile, seems to have been blindsided by the bank error.
Spokesman James Sniffen, who works in the UNEP office in New York, could not say yesterday when they discovered the $700,000 had been located, nor what the money would have been used for.
"Donor nations have made queries," he acknowledged yesterday, "but we're trying to find out if they've also queried Nairobi."
UNEP is funded by voluntary contributions from U.N. member states, with some money going to the annual operating budget and other funds earmarked for a variety of specific projects.
No one answered the phones at UNEP headquarters in Nairobi yesterday, and Mr. Sniffen said UNEP Executive Director Klaus Topfer was on leave.
But the U.N. offices in Nairobi have long been an administrative mess, drawing repeated criticism from the U.N. inspector general.
In October, Karl Paschke, head of the Office of Inspection Oversight Services, complained in a report to the General Assembly that U.N. staff in Nairobi had made more than $1.5 million worth of billing mistakes. He cited a backlog of unexamined accounts, a weak accounting system and a lack of familiarity with various U.N. rules.
The report also specified that $700,000 received by the Nairobi office "had not been properly recorded," although the report did not directly attribute that amount to the environment program or a misunderstanding with Chase.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Madakor who gave up her $23,000-a-year job as bookkeeper for a textile company has been spending more time at home with her 10-year-old son.
"She did everything right," said her lawyer. "She didn't move all this into an offshore account, she took the advice of Chase's personal bankers. She set up a college fund, has [certificates of deposit] and money market accounts."
Mr. Siegel added that the deposits "really did rehabilitate a family in the ghetto. This woman has gone from destitute to owning her own business, the child is better off because [Mrs. Madakor] is at home, and has a college fund. They have a van. It's all because of the United Nations.
"One of the biggest criticisms is that the U.N. doesn't do anything for Americans," he added with a laugh.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide