- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 12, 2007

NEW YORK — The head of the U.N. Development Program yesterday named a panel to investigate charges it retaliated against an employee who blew the whistle on payments of hard currency to North Korea and other irregularities in its dealings with the communist state.

The action represents an effort by the U.N. Development Program (UNDP) to head off criticism from the United States, where Congress has cut $20 million from the U.S. contribution to the agency next year.

The amount reflects an estimate of hard currency thought to have been diverted to North Korea’s repressive regime by the U.N. agency.

At a contentious meeting of the UNDP executive board Monday evening, the U.S. representative demanded that the UNDP improve its transparency and accountability on North Korea and in other countries.

Mark D. Wallace, the budget and administration officer at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, also demanded that the UNDP accept a U.N. Ethics Office investigation of the treatment of the whistleblower, Artjon Shkurtaj, instead of arranging its own investigation.

Mr. Shkurtaj’s contract was not renewed this summer after he complained about the way the North Korea program was run. He had worked for the United Nations for 12 years.

“UNDP has dismissed and then personally vilified a former staff member who revealed serious problems with UNDP activities in the DPRK which were then confirmed by the [U.N. board of auditors],” Mr. Wallace said. DPRK is an abbreviation for North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

UNDP Administrator Kemal Dervis told reporters yesterday that independent U.N. agencies such as the UNDP are not required to accept jurisdiction of the U.N. Ethics Office.

“As a voluntarily funded agency we have certain flexibilities and certain ways of dealing with things which don’t follow the very constraining ways the rest of the U.N. is stuck with,” he told reporters.

The panel named by the UNDP yesterday will be led by former Hungarian Prime Minister Miklos Nemeth.

The UNDP has been accused of hiring people dictated by the North Korean government, of not visiting sites of programs it funded, of keeping North Korean-made counterfeit $100 bills in its office safe and of paying for services and salaries in euros instead of local currency.

U.N. auditors concluded that the UNDP’s Pyongyang office “had acted in violation of its own rules.”

Mr. Shkurtaj has been cheered as a hero by Mr. Wallace and other U.S. officials.

But Mr. Dervis yesterday indicated that the Albanian national would not be reinstated, because of “facts that the external review will bring to light, I’m sure.”

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