NEW YORK — U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon yesterday called for an extended investigation of the U.N. Development Program's North Korea office, saying he is concerned about reports that Pyongyang had used U.N. money to buy foreign property and dual-use scientific equipment.
U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad last week raised the concerns to UNDP Administrator Kemal Dervis, said UNDP officials who yesterday refuted or clarified details of each charge.
Other U.S. complaints regarding counterfeited dollars, hard currency payments to the regime and the independence of North Korean staffers resulted in investigations and subsequent suspensions of programs.
"On initial review, the new allegations do not correspond to UNDP's own records, which UNDP has examined very carefully over the past six months," said spokesman David Morrison.
He said the U.S. Mission has not provided proof of its charges to UNDP.
The U.S. Mission has accused UNDP of transferring $7 million to a North Korean government agency, which used nearly $3 million of it to buy real estate in Canada and Europe.
Mr. Morrison said that from 2001 to 2005, UNDP transferred just $175,000 to the North Korean agency, called the National Coordinating Committee.
He said U.N. officials were satisfied that the money was used for agricultural seminars and workshops.
He said UNDP purchased computers, spectrometers and other items that Washington fears could be used to develop sophisticated weaponry, but that the equipment went to a British-initiated project for early warning on droughts and floods.
Ric Grenell, spokesman for Mr. Khalilzad, confirmed that the ambassador met with Mr. Dervis last week, but declined to comment on the UNDP response yesterday.
Mr. Dervis "took the information seriously and committed to respond immediately and we were pleased with his initial response," Mr. Grenell said.
Mr. Ban, who has promised to make reform the hallmark of his administration, said yesterday that he would ask the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions to extend its investigation into the program and consider sending auditors to North Korea.
"I am concerned, of course, about news reports and new allegations about North Korean activities about misusing UNDP funds," he told reporters yesterday.
The United States is one of 36 countries on the UNDP Executive Committee, which oversees the work of UNDP's roughly $4 billion budget.
An envoy from another country on the committee said his government wants the program run effectively and efficiently, but questions why the Americans shared the information with the press before they did the board.