Tuesday, August 21, 2007

NEW YORK (AP) — The U.N. ethics chief is recommending an investigation into whether a U.N. official was fired in retaliation for raising concerns about his agency’s financial transactions in North Korea, according to a letter obtained yesterday.

Artjon Shkurtaj, the former operations officer for the U.N. Development Program (UNDP) in North Korea, has said he found counterfeit U.S. dollars in the office safe on his first day of work in Pyongyang in November 2004.

When he asked what to do with the bills, he said, he never received a response.

When he complained that paying all North Korean salaries and program expenses in hard currency instead of local currency was against U.N. rules, he said, he was told “not to rock the boat.”

Mr. Shkurtaj told the Associated Press last month that he went to the U.N. management chief and the U.S. government after his bosses at the UNDP failed to act on his concerns.

He sought whistleblower protection from the United Nations, saying he lost his job after making the complaint.

UNDP spokesman David Morrison said last month that the claim was “without basis.”

However, U.N. Ethics Office head Robert Benson said in a confidential letter obtained by the AP yesterday that his review of the case turned up enough evidence of retaliation to support an investigation.

In the letter dated Friday and addressed to UNDP Administrator Kemal Dervis, Mr. Benson urged the agency to reconsider looking into the case.

It “would be in the best interests of the United Nations and UNDP to do so,” Mr. Benson said.

UNDP spokeswoman Chris- tina LoNigro said the agency stands by its findings that there was no evidence to support a claim of retaliation in the case. But she said the UNDP would support an external review into the agency’s now-defunct North Korea program to clear up the issue.

Secretary-General Kofi Annan signed the first U.N. whistleblower protection policy in 2005. All U.N. employees are required to report any breach of the organization’s rules and regulations and are protected from retaliation if they do so.

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