Whistleblower Asks Kerry To Recommend Withholding U.N. Funds

by
Reuters
A U.N. whistleblower who was awarded a fraction of the damages he says he suffered at the hands of the United Nations urged Washington on Monday to withhold 15 percent of the U.S. contribution to the world body in accordance with U.S. law.

* Whistleblower sought $3.2 million in damages from U.N.

* Watchdog says U.N. not adhering to best practices

* Whistleblower: "This is not justice. It is a travesty"

A U.N. whistleblower who was awarded a fraction of the damages he says he suffered at the hands of the United Nations urged Washington on Monday to withhold 15 percent of the U.S. contribution to the world body in accordance with U.S. law.

American James Wasserstrom was last month awarded 2 percent of the $3.2 million he wanted by a tribunal that found U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the U.N. Ethics Office failed to properly review claims he suffered retaliation for alleging U.N. corruption in Kosovo.

According to Section 7049(a) of the 2012 U.S. Consolidated Appropriations Act, the United States is required to withhold 15 percent of its contribution to any U.N. agency if the secretary of state determines that it is not implementing "best practices for the protection of whistleblowers from retaliation."

With the support of the Government Accountability Project, a non-profit whistleblower watchdog, Wasserstrom has written to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to recommend that Congress withhold 15 percent of its U.N. contribution for failing to implement those best practices for protecting whistleblowers.

"When I succeeded in the U.N. justice system, I came away with compensation that left me far worse off than if I had not come forward at all," Wasserstrom said in his letter to Kerry, which he distributed to reporters at a news conference.

"At the same time, the judgment conveys that anyone engaging in retaliation has nothing to fear as there are no real consequences," he wrote. "This is not justice. It is a travesty."

Wasserstrom complained in 2007 to the Ethics Office that he suffered retaliation for reporting alleged misconduct while head of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Oversight of Publicly Owned Enterprises in Kosovo.

He had told the United Nations he was concerned about corporate governance in Kosovo and alleged the possibility of a kickback scheme tied to a proposed power plant and mine that involved top politicians and senior U.N. officials.

Instead of being protected as a whistleblower, Wasserstrom claimed he suffered retaliation, which started with his U.N. public utility watchdog office in Kosovo being shut down and his U.N. contract not being renewed.

Although Wasserstrom eventually won his case, he was only awarded $65,000, despite the fact that he says his legal fees, lost wages and other financial damage incurred amounted to well over $2 million.

"The U.N. and Ban Ki-moon are not serious about transparency and accountability," Wasserstrom told reporters.

"In my case, the United Nations did not adhere to best practices for legal burdens of proof, nor did the organization hold the retaliators accountable, release its finding regarding my substantive disclosures, or eliminate the effects of the retaliation," he wrote to Kerry.

Shelley Walden, an expert from the Government Accountability Project, was also at Wasserstrom's news conference. She confirmed that in her group's opinion the United Nations is not following best practices for protecting whistleblowers as required by U.S. federal law.

Wasserstrom now works at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.

A spokesman for Ban said last month that the judgment of the U.N. Dispute Tribunal would not be final until it was confirmed by the U.N. Appeals Tribunal. He said the United Nations was examining the judgment to determine whether it would appeal.

The U.N. press office did not respond immediately to a request for a reaction to Wasserstrom's letter to Kerry. Nor did the U.S. mission to the United Nations.