- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 15, 2005

NEW YORK — The United Nations reinstated the only U.N. official who was fired over the Iraq oil-for-food scandal, after an internal appeals body ruled that he had been made a scapegoat by the organization, according to a letter made public yesterday.

The decision was made Monday, and Joseph Stephanides, fired May 31, received the letter yesterday. It maintained he had violated staff rules by showing preference to one bidder for an oil-for-food contract but essentially acknowledged the punishment was too harsh.

Mr. Stephanides, a 60-year-old Cypriot national, had been scheduled to retire in September, and the move gives him his pay up to that point. U.N. deputy spokeswoman Marie Okabe confirmed that Mr. Stephanides’ firing had been overturned and said Undersecretary-General for Management Christopher Burnham signed the letter on behalf of Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who is at a conference in Tunisia.

The letter, dated Monday, said, “The sanction that was imposed on you has been reconsidered in light of all the circumstances in the case and the principle of proportionality.”

The Joint Disciplinary Committee, the U.N. appeals board, had ruled last month that Mr. Stephanides should be reinstated, issued a written apology and paid about $200,000 — about two years’ back pay — for the emotional suffering and damage to his reputation caused by Mr. Annan’s handling of his case.

Mr. Stephanides’ attorney, George Irving, said he was not satisfied with Mr. Annan’s move and would take the case to the next step up the internal appeals ladder, the Administrative Tribunal. Unlike the disciplinary committee, the tribunal’s decisions are binding.

The committee’s ruling concluded that Mr. Stephanides was fired mostly because of the public scrutiny from an investigation that found that the $64 billion oil-for-food program was poorly managed and corrupt.

The committee “sympathized with the applicant’s argument that he was being made the ‘sacrificial lamb’ in this matter so as to give the impression to the world that concrete and decisive action was being taken,” the ruling said.

The decision to reverse Mr. Stephanides’ firing, which required Mr. Annan’s approval, could be embarrassing to the secretary-general and the United Nations as they try to move on from the oil-for-food scandal.

In February, a United Nations-backed probe led by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker accused Mr. Stephanides of tainting the bidding process over a contract to inspect goods going into Iraq.

Mr. Stephanides was the only U.N. employee to be punished over the scandal. Benon Sevan, the program’s former chief, is being investigated by the Manhattan district attorney’s office on suspicion of accepting kickbacks. Alexander Yakovlev, who worked in the U.N. contract office, resigned and pleaded guilty in August to soliciting a bribe from a company seeking a contract.

The oil-for-food program, which ran from 1996 to 2003, allowed dictator Saddam Hussein to sell limited and then unlimited quantities of oil, provided most of the money went to buy humanitarian goods such as food and medicine.

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