Sunday, April 09, 2006

Inquiry faults Kosovo's UN governor on corruption

By Irwin Arieff
Fri Apr 7, 8:14 PM ET



The United Nations' internal watchdog accused Kosovo's U.N. governor on Friday of turning a blind eye to widespread fraud, corruption and mismanagement at the Pristina airport since mid-2004.

A two-year inquiry by the U.N. Office of Internal Oversight Services, working with European Union investigators, found that "fraud and mismanagement were rife and there was systematic corruption" at the airport, the OIOS reported.

The report comes as broad management reform proposals, put forward after allegations of widespread mismanagement in the now-defunct oil-for-food program for Iraq, are running into strong resistance from many U.N. member-states.

Some U.S. legislators have threatened to cut Washington's U.N. dues payments if the reforms fall short.

The United Nations has run Kosovo since 1999 after a NATO bombing campaign to halt Serb repression of ethnic Albanians, who make up about 90 percent of the province's population.

The world body is now leading international negotiations on whether Kosovo should be granted independence, as the Albanians demand, or remain an autonomous part of Serbia.

In Kosovo, the watchdog said, "the inevitable conclusion is that accountability for mismanagement and abuse of funds does not exist in the operation, management and supervision of the airport" in Pristina, the provincial capital.

'ENTIRELY UNWARRANTED'

Soren Jessen-Petersen of Denmark, Kosovo's U.N. administrator since June 2004, rejected the office's conclusions as "entirely unwarranted" and unsubstantiated.

He argued that as Secretary-General Kofi Annan's special representative for Kosovo, he had no mandate to investigate publicly owned enterprises such as the airport, according to the report.

He also argued against publicly issuing the OIOS findings.

The OIOS said a special task force including European Union investigators produced 33 reports between August 2004 and June 2005 detailing problems at the airport and how to remedy them.

While nine matters were referred through Jessen-Petersen's office to the U.N. Mission in Kosovo's Department of Justice for criminal investigation, most of the reports were not acted upon because it was not part of his job, Jessen-Petersen said in a written response to the report's findings.

The U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations, in separate comments, supported that view, the OIOS said.

It said the U.N. mission's inability to address fraud and corruption at Kosovo's publicly owned enterprises dates back to the mission's origins in 1999. "Even though it has become clear that corruption is rampant in Kosovo ... mission management is reluctant to take action," the OIOS report said.

With the mission set to withdraw once Kosovo's future status is determined, expected later this year, this reluctance "will have a devastating impact on public perception inside and outside Kosovo, as the United Nations will be seen as escaping from the problems rather than solving them," it said.

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