Another day, another UN scandal
posted at 10:58 am on March 27, 2009 by Ed Morrissey
If the UN has a program, it also has bureaucrats willing to steal from it. The latest example comes from the effort to rebuild Afghanistan, when an American trusted with more than a billion dollars of funds spent over $500,000 on his favorite charity — himself:
A former U.N. official who oversaw reconstruction funds in Afghanistan diverted half a million dollars from roads, schools and clinics to fund his luxury lifestyle, according to a confidential internal U.N. investigation.
The U.N. Procurement Task Force accused Gary K. Helseth, an American who headed the U.N. Office for Project Services (UNOPS) in Afghanistan from 2002 to 2006, in December of using the funds for lavish purchases, including first-class flights to Las Vegas and meals in posh restaurants in Copenhagen, Dubai, Florence and New York. Helseth oversaw more than $1 billion in reconstruction funds contributed by the United States and other international donors after the fall of the Taliban.
The probe is a cautionary tale about the risks of lax U.N. financial controls in Afghanistan as the Obama administration presses for a more central role for the United Nations in coordinating rebuilding efforts there.
The task force alleged that Helseth improperly used hundreds of thousands of dollars in funds from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) for rent, a home renovation and luxury items. It also said he stole $65,000 in cash from a U.N. safe and billed the United States and other international donors more than $60,000 for entertainment, including opulent parties at his Kabul residence where guests dined on Beluga caviar, Norwegian salmon and foie gras.
Helseth denies stealing the money but does admit to some of the other allegations. He defended his purchase of a $30,000 Lexus by saying that people judged officials by the kind of car they drive. Helseth now says that spending $66,000 in gym equipment may have been a little over the top, but blames the UN for having overly complicated financial rules.
Gee, correct me if I’m wrong, but how does one blame complicated rules for buying $66,000 in gym equipment? And what the heck did he buy with that, anyway? You can get a Bowflex for a few easy $39 payments, or so the TV tells me. Maybe USAID can donate the equipment to the prison that Helseth will almost certainly spend the next few years. He can think of it as a fat farm with better security.
The UN, meanwhile, was supposed to conduct a series of investigations into Helseth and various other corruptions associated with their Afghanistan effort. They disbanded the unit that discovered all of these issues, but have yet to reassign the investigation to its investigations division as expected when they dissolved this effort. The man who ran it, former US federal prosecutor Robert Appleton, was supposed to be appointed to run the division and bring his investigations with him. However, the UN has blocked him from taking the position because, as the Washington Post reports, he’s one short on X chromosomes and has the wrong mailing address:
The United Nations, meanwhile, has blocked the unit’s chairman, Robert M. Appleton, from taking up an appointment as chief of the U.N. investigations division, which is supposed to inherit the task force’s caseload.
Top U.N. officials applauded Appleton’s work but cited the lack of female or non-U.S. candidates on the short list for the job. Appleton, a former federal prosecutor, declined to comment on the investigation.
At face value, this provides an ironic demonstration of the uselessness of political correctness and hiring quotas. The man who did the job can’t get the job. But this looks mighty suspicious, especially considering the level of corruption at Turtle Bay. It seems that the UN doesn’t want an effective investigator poking around its bureaucracies, and prefers to find a political hack instead.
This means, of course, that the scandals, corruption, and theft will continue at the UN, because they have no accountability to anyone except the kleptocrats that populate Turtle Bay.
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