Thursday, May 26, 2016

Inner City Press Asks of UN Reselling Food in Lebanon, Systematic Means How Many Stores?

By Matthew Russell Lee
UNITED NATIONS, May 25 -- UN Peacekeeping, beyond the scandals of rapes, is also plagued under Herve Ladsous by corruption. Inner City Press on May 25 asked UN Deputy Spokesman Farhan Haq about El Pais' scoop about re-sold Es-Ko food in Lebanon. Video here; UN transcript below.

On May 26, after Ladsous refused to take any Press questions, Inner City Press asked Haq more questions, UN transcript here:

 Inner City Press: I also wanted to ask you about UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon).  Yesterday in response you'd said that there's no evidence but that UNIFIL itself is looking into it.  Andthe El País story is very detailed.  It not only quotes unnamed people, it quotes named people who cite a number of stores throughout Lebanon where they found food marked “for domestic consumption only, UN”.  They made complaints not to the UN but to the Lebanese Government.  So I wonder, when you read the statement that says that there's no evidence, are [you saying] the things in the El País story not true, or what's your standard for there being a systematic resale of food? 

Deputy Spokesman:  First of all, as I made clear, this matter… the investigation is ongoing.  It's being conducted in order to verify facts and individual responsibilities, if any.  At the present stage, as I'm being asked this, there is at present no indication confirming any evidence of a systematic sale of food rations in local markets or any involvement of UNIFIL contingents.

Question:  Right, but systematic…  my question is what does systematic mean?  If it's in five stores, seven stores?  When does it become systematic, according to UNIFIL?

Deputy Spokesman:  This is, as I've said, if there are further details as a result of the investigation as it proceeds, I'll share them at that stage.  This is what I have for now.

The day before, on May 25:

Inner City Press: On UNIFIL, I'm sure you've seen the story in El País about the alleged theft and resale of food meant for peacekeepers in markets in Lebanon.  And I guess, two things I wanted to ask you about it… about the story as it seems that the mission is confirming that there's an investigation, but they didn't go further.  Can you say whether it's an OIOS (Office of Internal Oversight Services) investigation?  And also, they say that the Italy-based contractor Es-Ko is the one that brought the food, and I want to know, since Es-Ko has contracts in a number of other missions, is this something that OIOS or anyone here, DPKO (Department of Peacekeeping Operations), would be looking at to see whether this is a pattern in other missions?

Deputy Spokesman:  Well, regarding the allegation of a diversion of food, the UN Interim Force in Lebanon, UNIFIL, has already taken the appropriate measures to ensure that such an allegation is properly investigated.  When those allegations were first made, UNIFIL immediately launched an investigation in line with established UN rules and regulations.  There's no indication confirming any evidence of a systematic sale of food rations in local markets or any involvement of UNIFIL contingents.  The investigation is still under review.  The investigation is being conducted in order to verify the facts and individual responsibilities, if any.  The UN will, of course, take all appropriate measures if there are credible… if there's credible evidence of wrongdoing.

Inner City Press:  One follow-up.  The El País quotes an employee of Es-Ko.  And so I'm wondering, this investigation, sounds like it's not OIOS.  It's just the mission?  Have they spoken with employees of the contractor who have come forward in blowing the whistle about resale of food?

Deputy Spokesman:  As far as I'm aware, this is a UNIFIL investigation.  It's still underway.  I've told you what information they have right now, but they're still proceeding.

There more, much more, corruption within the UN Peacekeeping of Herve Ladsous. And elsewhere in the UN: With Burundi troops accused of raping children as part of UN Peacekeeping chief Ladsous' MINUSCA mission in the Central African Republic, as well as accused of abuses in Burundi itself, a new funding question has arisen, involving Commerbank.

  And the UN of Ban Ki-moon moved to evict Inner City Press, which is asking the question. It happened on April 16, video here and here (Periscope)New York Times of May 14, here.
Ban's waning tenure at the UN is embroiled in scandal not only of peacekeeper rapes under Under Secretary General Herve Ladsous but more dangerously for Ban the scandal of bribery at the UN by Macau-based businessman Ng Lap Seng, of former President of the General Assembly John Ashe and members of Ban's Secretariat.     The Office of Internal Oversight Services audit occasioned by the indictment of Ng, Ashe and others who had since pleaded guilty, including Francis Lorenzo of South South News which still under Gallach has its UN office, named Gallach as negligent, at best. See audit at Paragraphs 37-40 and 20(b).  Gallach did no due diligence in allowing Ng's Global Sustainability Foundation to hold a corrupt event in the UN Visitors Lobby, with Ban present. Gallach did no due diligence of Ng's Global Sustainability Foundation sponsoring the UN's slavery memorial.    Gallach, who had found that some under her in the Department of Public Information whom she had ordered to sign the ouster letter refused to, said that Inner City Press had broken the rules and norms. As time has gone on, she had been unable to specify which rules - in fact, when directly asked she refused to provide a copy of the rule she claims to be relying on.   Ban heard about the impending ouster of Inner City Press... and did nothing. His supporters point out to Inner City Press that Ban also did not speak in favor of it. We'll have more on this.    Spain on the other hand, which got Gallach the position, has as part of the leverage it has as a Security Council member during the selection of the next Secretary General decided to drop Gallach and seek to put a different Spanish official in a different, more substantive post: the Office of Disarmament, current run by Ban's senior adviser Kim Won-soo (who, when asked about the ouster of Inner City Press and how it makes Ban looks, said only, “You have to talk with Cristine”).    But even if Spain which unwisely put the under-qualified Gallach in the DPI position now sees the error of its ways, the reality is that Ban Ki-moon's UN, in the midst of a corruption scandal, ousted and evicted the critical Press which is pursuing the story.    As Inner City Press learned more about how Gallach got the position, and how she (mis) used it, the retaliation grew - to the point of throwing Inner City Press' files in the street on April 16, video here. Next, Gallach's staff tore down the sign of the Free UN Coalition for Access on the door of Room S-303, which opposes censorship, and have until now ignored Inner City Press' formal request regarding its office in S-303. Others said it was on hold, despite French and Moroccan moves. But Gallach is getting more and more desperate and retaliatory, and Ban still claims, despite the above, “That is not my decision.” 
On April 29, Inner City Press asked Ban's spokesman, video hereUN transcript here.

  Since the UN and Ban Ki-moon are embroiled in their own bribery and corruption scandal, the issue was raised to Commerzbank, which replied:

"Please report potentially fraudulent activities to [Link]"

  But Commerzbank's link to report fraud returns, "The document you requested does not exist on this server."

 For a bank with legal duties, this is a problem, as is opening an account to receive the UN's Herve Ladsous' payments to Pierre Nkurunziza for troops accused of rape in the Central African Republic. We'll have more on this.

Update: after this Inner City Press story and complaint, Commerzbank belatedly fixed it s "Fraud" link. But what about the substantive behavior?

On April 21, amid published reports of up to 150 people detained in Mugamba, Inner City Press asked Ban's spokesman Stephane Dujarric about it. He said he hadn't heard of it but would check.

An hour after the briefing, this was sent to Inner City Press:

From: UN Spokesperson - Do Not Reply
Date: Thu, Apr 21, 2016 at 1:46 PM
Subject: Your question on Burundi
To: Matthew.Lee [at]
Cc: Stephane Dujarric [at]

"Regarding your question at the noon briefing: Our human rights office was informed that on 20 April 2016, following a security incident that occurred in Mugamba commune, Bururi province (an exchange of gunfire between unidentified armed men and military elements, during which two people including a military lost their lives), three persons, including a teacher, were arrested by the police and detained in Mugamba police station. No charges were retained against them and they were finally released on 21 April 2016 following an intervention by the Regional police commissioner."

 Is that all that happened?

On April 12, Inner City Press asked Ban's deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq, video hereUN transcript here.

  Hours after these claims, and in retaliation, the UN sent Inner City Press an eviction notice for April 16, which despite push back they implemented.
   Even as the European Union considers changes to it payments for Burundi peacekeepers in AMISOM in Somalia, so that less of the money is taken by the Nkurunziza government for repression, UN Peacekeeping under Ladsous and Maria Costa have made their pay-out to Nkurunziza's government - no longer through the Burundi National Bank but through a bank account in Paris, at Commerzbank.

 On April 11, Inner City Press asked UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric about this: why is the money not being paid to the Burundi Central Bank? Would Ladsous pay to an offshore bank, in Antigua and Barbuda or Panama for example, without looking into it?

  Dujarric said he does not have details on member states banking relations; he did not answer on offshore banks. Here are some photos,here.

View image on TwitterView image on Twitter
On , ICP asked UN of  paying bank in Paris, concerns of civil society, h/t photos
  Meanwhile some also say that those repatriated from CAR under allegations of abuse, for example First Major Srgt Zepherin, are just re-sent by the Nkurunziza government for “service” with AMISOM in Somalia. We'll have more on this, too.

On Burundi Inner City Press asked UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric on March 31 about the death in prison of Jacques Bihozagara.

Unlike several member states, but not the Security Council's penholder France, the UN had only this: "We obviously would hope that his death will be investigated in as much of a public manner as possible."

Now the inadequacy of the UN's response is even more clear in light of this report: "During his detention, Bihozagara was visited by several diplomats who were assured he was in safe custody. On Saturday night, reports indicated that Burundi official demanded that the deceased’s family sign documents indicating that he died of natural causes or forget asking for the body."

On April 5, Inner City Press asked UN deputy spokesperson Farhan Haq about it, UN transcript here.

 We'll have more on the UN's actual position on that sort of practice, or these type of offers.

 In a smaller but similar way, the UN on February 19 told Inner City Press that if it did not move eight years of investigative files out of its UN office, even the offer of a reduced non-Resident Correspondent accreditation would be withdrawn.

  Now while threatening to throw or move everything out, the UN is making even more troubling "offers." Perhaps this is why the UN Secretariat cannot criticize Pierre Nkurunziza's Burundi; instead Ban Ki-moon praised Nkurunziza for half re-opening a mere two of four radio stations he closed. New low for the UN.

 Ban Ki-moon, his deputy and chief of staff have received this sample letter to reverse Gallach's outrageous decisions, concluding, "Your decision to restore ICP's full accreditation and office will be highly appreciated by many Burundians crying out for peace and protection while promoting the freedom of press in Burundi." As of this writing, still no response from Ban.

On March 25, Inner City Press' sources reported to it that "Around 4 am today, heavily armed police surrounded the zone of Musaga, searched homes without warrants, arrested around five young men and killed an old man by shooting him purposeful on First Avenue Musaga. Among the arrested young men, two are related as a sister and a brother -- the shocking story behind these two is that the old brother Arnaud was shot and killed by the police during the demonstration."

  Meanwhile to cut off further protests, the government is regulating SIM cards - and, some say, the French firm SG2 may be engaged in wire tapping in Burundi:  "several technicians of local companies have confided that: 'We were obliged to provide SG2 with some 200 free numbers and to authorize their technicians to access our networks. They connected their own systems. We are sure that they have the technology to carry out phone-tapping.' Since the introduction of this system, international calls to Burundi have become very expensive, and Burundians in the diaspora now choose to use Skype or other calling systems (Viber, WhatsApp, etc). Soon people will do this for local calls as well, to avoid being tapped."

  Again, no UN comment on surveillance? Well, this is from an Organization which got its favored correspondents to give it their cell phone footage to try to eject the Press on a pretext.

When Burundi was belatedly discussed at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on March 22, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Christof Heyns urged the government of Pierre Nkurunziza against reprisals on those who talk with the UN Panel of Experts. But how will that be enforced?

  The United States for its part said Burundi should "lift all undue restrictions on the media." It's a fine sentiment - but the US Mission to the UN has been asked, by the DC-based Government Accountability Project, to ensure that the UN lifts restrictions on Inner City Press which covers, along with UN corruption, Western Sahara and Burundi. GAP Letter here.

 On March 22, Inner City Press was entirely unnecessarily restricted from reaching the UN Security Council stakeout to cover a meeting on Western Sahara, Periscope on YouTube here. What will the US Mission do?

  In Geneva, Heyns had to leave; Rwanda and South Africa were added to the speakers' list, but only for the afternoon session. Watch this site.

A week ago Inner City Press asked UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric, about UN (in) action in Burundi. UN transcript here.

 A week later from Dujarric, who threw Inner City Press out of the UN Press Briefing Room, there has been no answer, as on so many Press questions to Ban Ki-moon's UN on Burundi. So on March 21, Inner City Press asked Dujarric's deputy Farhan Haq, UN transcript here.

As Burundi's Pierre Nkurunziza government stepped up the killing and censorship of opponents, its lobbyists in the U.S. capital, Scribe Strategies, were paid $60,000 to among other things set up interviews with US-government broadcaster Voice of America and the French government's France 24.

  Nkurunziza's party the CNDD-FDD paid Scribe Strategies $59,980 on November 10, 2015. Scribes has this month disclosed, for the six month period ending January 31, 2016, that in exchange for this money it arranged for example for Nkurunziza's adviser to be "interviewed" on Voice of America and France 24.

  Scribe Strategies also, during the reporting period, was paid to arrange for Sam Kutesa, a former President of the General Assembly who was involved with many of the same donors named in the corruption case against his predecessor John Ashe, to be "interviewed" by Voice of America about his tenure as PGA, during which he was as now foreign minister of Uganda.

  Inner City Press has covered not only the John Ashe / Ng Lap Seng / Frank Lorenzo / Sheri Yan corruption case, but also Kutesa's dealings with the highest reaches of Ban Ki-moon's UN Secretariat, for example here and here.

 On February 19, Inner City Press was thrown out of the UN on two hours notice. Audio and petition here. On February 22 Inner City Press was told it was Banned from all UN premises. After three days reporting on the UN from the park in front of it, and stories in BuzzFeed andBusiness Insider, Inner City Press re-entered the UN on a more limited "non-resident correspondent" pass, under which on March 10 UN Security ordered it to leave the UN as it worked in the UN lobby at 8 pm. Video here; UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric's March 11 justification here.

  The underlying UN rule only says that non-resident correspondents can only come into the UN up until 7 pm. But the UN's goal, it seems, is to prevent or hinder coverage of UN corruption, which usually doesn't take place in the UN Press Briefing Room. (January 29, 2016 and September 8, 2011 -- Frank Lorenzo, UNdisclosed -- are notably exceptions.)

  Lobbying the deciding UN official, Under Secretary General for Public Information Cristina Gallach, were the honchos of the UN Correspondents Association, including France 24 and, as in 2012, Voice of America.

  Scribes Strategies' disclosures do not (have to) mention the Nkurunziza government's lobbying in and around the UN. We'll have more on this.
  Back on March 9 when the Burundi configuration of the UN Peacebuilding Commission met, the conference room was too small and the meeting was not televised, at least not to the outside world (see below). There was talk of Burundi's Pierre Nkurunziza have allowed two of four closed radio stations to re-open.

But Special Adviser Jamal Benomar said these two stations were not critical of the government; beyond that, it has emerged that the stations' directors had to sign a commitment about their future coverage. Some in the UN, it is clear, would like to do just this - in fact, that's why Inner City Press could not watch the meeting on UN in-house TV in its shared office the UN has seized, and so came to the meeting.

  In Conference Room 8, the Permanent Representatives of Tanzania, Belgium, Burundi, Norway, The Netherlands, and others, and Deputies from France, Rwanda and others. France was given the floor first in the debate; its Deputy Alex Lamek after a bland speech left the meeting, his seat taken by another French mission staffer. Belgium called for a re-opening of all media without restriction.

  There were other speeches, but Inner City Press had to go upstairs, with its its currently reduced access pass, and ask the UN's Deputy Spokesperson why Ban had praised the re-opening, with restrictions, of only two of the four radio stations closed. Vine hereUN transcript here

Deputy Spokesman Haq:  Ultimately, what we want is for the media to be free to do their work unconditionally.

  This is ironic: audio herepetition here. We'll have more on this.
 On January 28, Inner City Press asked UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric about a meeting held but not televised on January 27, at which it was urged that mass grave sites in Burundi be preserved as evidence,video here, transcript here.

Obtained by Inner City Press

Ladsous' lack of vetting was criticized in the recently released report into the cover up of peacekeepers' rapes in the Central African Republic. Earlier, Inner City Press exclusive reported on Ladsous in his October 1, 2015 meeting with Burundi's vice president saying that he is "pragmatic" on human rights.

 On December 16 Inner City Press was banned from questions to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, but learned from the mission MINUSCA that Baratuza was already in Entebbe. Inner City Press asked several Security Council members, then Ban's spokesman Stephane Dujarric on December17.

Dujarric told Inner City Press Baratuza's deployment is suspended and he is being repatriated: "based on the information we've received regarding the Lieutenant Colonel, his deployment has been suspended, and he will be repatriated back to Burundi." Video here. Dujarric told Inner City Press this shows the UN system working - on a day when a report on rapes was issued showing UN Peacekeeping under Herve Ladsous not sufficiently vetting for human rights. We'll have more on this.

 Amid the escalating killings in Burundi, summary executions in neighborhoods opposed to Pierre Nkurunziza's third term stand out. But Burundi Army spokesman Gaspard Baratuza was quoted on December 12 blaming all of the deaths on attempts to steal weapons to free prisoners.

   Inner City Press heard that Mr. Baratuza was already in the process of being deployed to the UN Peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) even when he was giving these quotes, issuing statements and speaking to state-owned radio, and so asked MINUSCA's acting spokesperson, “Is Gaspard Baratuza of Burundi's army getting a MINUSCA job?” Ultimately, after the questioning, he didn't.
   But the UN should have to say more. Inner City Press has repeatedly asked the UN how its Department of Peacekeeping Operations under Herve Ladsous vets those who deploy to UN missions; Inner City Pressexclusively reported on an October 1, 2015 meeting in which Ladsous told Burundi's Vice President Joseph Butare that he is “pragmatic” on human rights.

 Ban Ki-moon and his spokesman declined to take Inner City Press' questions on December 16, as they did on December 14. Vine here.  Watch this site.