UNITED NATIONS THEATRE OF THE ABSURD

 

THEATRE OF THE ABSURD

15 November 2005

Question: On the Volcker report, has the Indian Government made any representation to the Secretary-General about Natwar Singh, the Indian Foreign Minister, being named as a beneficiary in the oil-for-food programme?

Deputy Spokesman: On that issue, as of now, I cannot confirm that a letter has been received on the 38th floor, but I do have a statement regarding, more generically, the oil-for-food programme that may help you:

"The five reports of the Independent Inquiry into the oil-for-food programme chaired by Paul Volcker are the culmination of an 18-month investigation into all aspects of the programme. The five public reports have been issued by the IIC and represent the findings and conclusions of that independent inquiry, which is a fact-finding body and cannot make any binding judicial determination of fact or law. This information enables the United Nations and national authorities to further investigate and, if appropriate, take action against individuals or corporations under their jurisdiction. A number of national authorities have already commenced or announced their intention to undertake follow-up inquiries concerning individuals and companies based on information contained in the final report. The IIC and the United Nations are willing to cooperate as appropriate."

Question: The Indian Ambassador to the UN has been quoted in press releases as saying he has taken up the matter with the Secretary-General of the UN, and since then Mr. Natwar Singh, the Indian Foreign Minister, has even been removed from the post. Has any representation been made to the Secretary-General?

Deputy Spokesman: I answered that at the beginning. As of now, I cannot confirm that a letter was received on the 38th floor but I can check with you after the briefing. It may be a matter of the traffic getting there.

Question: There are reports from New Delhi, at this point in time, that Mr. Natwar Singh said that Mr. Shashi Tharoor assured him that there is nothing much in the report. And, that Mr. Tharoor is in New Delhi now in order to clarify that.

Deputy Spokesman: I am not Mr. Tharoorís spokesman. So, youíre going to have to talk with Mr. Tharoor directly. I think he is in New Delhi. I think he is there. I actually donít know in what capacity he is there. I donít know what heís talked to the press about.

Question: Who is his spokesman since heís the head of the Department of Public Information?

Deputy Spokesman: Heís his own spokesman.

Question: So, we have to ask him, are you saying?

Deputy Spokesman: What was the question again? To clarify his quote, is that it?

Question: My question is that Mr. Natwar Singh was quoted in the New Delhi press and television that he was assured by Mr. Tharoor that there is nothing in this Volcker report, it is to be disregarded and that it is nothing much. And this is what, as I understand it, what Mr. Tharoor has rushed to New Delhi to clarify his position.

Deputy Spokesman: I think his trip to India had been planned. I can try to find out for you what the exact purpose of his visit is. As for his quotes, I wasnít there but I can certainly clarify for you whether he said that or not. Evelyn.

Question: Two questions. Now that the Volcker Commission has ended, is there any kind of international sense of what is, and collating of who is doing what follow-up or is it now purely in the hands of each country to determine on their own?

Deputy Spokesman: The Commission has not disbanded yet. It is functional as a commission until the end of this month, so it is still continuing with the follow-up and, as I just mentioned, it is cooperating with the appropriate national authorities.

Question: Does the UN have any sense, that basically, as the guardian of this programme, some, now, oversight and also as the body that commissioned this report, that you have some oversight, monitoring, follow-up, implementation, all the words that are endlessly trotted out by the UN, over the follow-up to this report? Or is it just now left to float in the wind?

Deputy Spokesman: Well, as I just mentioned, I just read you a statement saying the ICC and the UN are willing to cooperate. The Commission is as of now, still operational for the month. And the arrangements for the continuation of that are being discussed right now. I donít have anything to announce for you in terms of what form that will take.

Question: You say there will be some kind of monitoring, oversight, follow-up kind of?

Deputy Spokesman: Absolutely.

Question: Does the UN consider it appropriate that Shashi represents himself as an independent author on his own website?

Deputy Spokesman: I think, as long as any UN official gets approval from the proper channels...

Question: Who is he getting approval from in this case?

Deputy Spokesman: Iíd have to look into that for you.

Question: Were Shashi Tharoorís comments approved by anybody in the Secretariat?

Deputy Spokesman: I canít even confirm that he said that so letís not go there..

Question: You say that the IOSC report enabled the UN and other authorities to further investigate. Why is it that every time we ask anything about the Volcker report, the answer is, "Itís in the Volcker Report"? Weíre asking about further investigation, which now you confirm the UN is authorized to do. Why is that we always get the same stock answer, "Volcker dealt with it. Itís over and done with"? There are question marks still lingering after the Volcker report.

Deputy Spokesman: Because the basis was laid by the Volcker report. The Volcker report put out the facts and it is now up to the national authorities and it is up to the United Nations to follow-up on what is there.

Question: The questions we are asking about are about question marks that remain after the Volcker report, including where the car is, what ever happened to the car, what happened to the letter, things that are exactly in the realm of further investigation.

Deputy Spokesman: I donít know what letter youíre talking about. As for the car --

Question: The letter that was written or not written or was asked as a favour to be written and never showed up. Was it shredded? What ever happened to it? Nobody knows. The only one who could know is the UN. And weíve been asking, whatever happened to that letter and the stock answer was always, "Itís in the Volcker report". But, weíre asking for further investigation which youíre saying now is [inaudible].

Deputy Spokesman: The "further investigation", though, is based on what is presented in the Volcker report. Based on the evidence provided, weíre saying that itís up to national authorities and the UN to take action as appropriate.

Question: "And the UN". I heard "and the UN".

Deputy Spokesman: Yes. "And the UN".

Question: The question about the car is the fact that the Volcker report says that a car was bought in the Secretary-Generalís name and the question we are asking is, does the Secretary-General still own the car?

Deputy Spokesman: If there is any more information on this car, Iíll get back to you. Iíve been saying for the last 10 minutes, I have no information on this car.

Question: Similarly, the question about Janneh, is that apparently he applied for a tax exemption, which he wasnít entitled to do, at the behest of the Secretary-General or his son. Youíre not telling me UN officials are allowed to perform their official functions at the behest of...

Deputy Spokesman: I also told you that if there is anything further on this Iíll get back to you. I do not have any information on what you are saying and we have Jan Egeland here to talk about the first anniversary...

Question: Weíll have time for Jan Egeland. One other question is, in this room, a few days ago, it was announced that there was some kind of panel being set up to examine the Volcker report to see what follow-up action the UN should take. Has that panel been formed? Has it decided on any follow-up action? Whoís on that panel?

Deputy Spokesman: Iíll ask Chris Burnham.

Question: Thereís, at least, one lawsuit by at least one, by Sandi Oil, an oil company in South Africa, against the Commission, or is about to file in New York and against the UN. Two questions. Are you aware of this and any other lawsuits that might be coming out of the Volcker report? And can, in fact, the UN be sued and can the commissioners be sued?

Deputy Spokesman: I donít have an answer to your last question. Iíll have to get back to you on that.

(THE FOLLOWING DAY...)

Question: This letter that was received by the Secretary-General, by the Congress Party. Do you have the contextual letter available for the press?

Deputy Spokesman: No, we donít.

Question: And does this office intend to forward it to the Inquiry Commission?

Deputy Spokesman: Yes we have received the letter, and yes we will be forwarding it on to the Commission.

Question: Now, given what is happening in India at this time, the big storm after the demotion of the Foreign Minister and everything else, and there are investigations going on and theyíre now saying they will sue the IIC, I guess and basically they were saying the United Nations and now they retracted and said itís going to be IIC. In that view, will IIC remain in session when a lawsuit is filed? Will it continue to function?

Deputy Spokesman: I think you have to pose those questions to the ICC. The Commission, as you know, is in existence until the end of this month.

Question: In the United Nations, if the Inquiry Commission wants to stay in session, if it is sued by the Indian Government, because it takes exception to the fact that it was named in the report, will the United Nations allow it to continue to function? Can someone tell me the answer to that?

Deputy Spokesman: I donít have an answer to that. Right now I think you have to refer all questions about the Commission to the Commission itself.

(AND THE FOLLOWING DAY...)

Question: Last time, two days ago, we asked you for information about what was being done in the Volcker follow-up. There was some kind of committee being set up to read the Volcker report and see what follow-up was needed. Can you tell us just who was on the committee, which department it was in, what the status of its work was? Can you update us on that?

Deputy Spokesman: You asked me the other day what efforts, I think you asked me a question about what Chris Burnham had said at his briefing.

Question: No, I asked ... and Stťphane had said that there was some kind of committee set up to read the Volcker report, which obviously would be a good idea, and to see whether further action was needed in any aspects. And I asked who was on the board and what they were doing.

Deputy Spokesman: I donít have any specific information on that. I think I answered your colleagueís question earlier this week about the follow-up mechanism, and I said that the commission is still in place, and that a follow-up to that is being discussed. As for the follow-up to the last Volcker report, the only thing I can tell you on that is that the UN is currently examining all companies named in the report and cross-checking them against its list of approved vendors, and that process, I understand, has begun. In terms of committees, I donít know what...

Question: Well, Stťphane didnít answer it. Is there any kind of (inaudible) internal mechanism for Volcker follow-up? is the question.

Deputy Spokesman: There is. The UN is, as I said, mainly through the Department of Management, looking into...

Question: The question is what is the internal mechanism?

Deputy Spokesman: Let me get you the details on that. Iíve asked for the details.

Question: You said the UN is examining all the companies named in the report and cross-checking them against the list of approved vendors. Is that with a view to removing companies who are named in the report from your list of approved vendors?

Deputy Spokesman: Where appropriate and with the full respect for due process, such companies may be suspended from doing business with the United Nations, pending further investigation and clarification of their role in the oil-for-food programme.

Question: So, how does this work and when are decisions going to be made, and do you follow up with specific investigations with comp -- whatís the process here?

Deputy Spokesman: This is something that is just beginning, so I have nothing further on this now, but, as I just mentioned to James, if I get more details on the mechanism and the time line, I will let you know.

Question: When the Volcker Commission ceases to function, which you said is the end of this month, what youíre saying is all the documents will be sent to the United Nations, right?

Deputy Spokesman: I did not say that. Right now the Volcker commission is in existence, as I said, until the end of this month. Any question beyond that is right now a hypothetical one.

Question: Where does the documentation end up when they end their reign, whatever it is? Where does it end up, all these documents?

Deputy Spokesman: The precise details of that are being discussed right now, as they have still more than three weeks before they close shop.

Question: Mr. Volcker said at his press conference that the documents would go to the UN, and that it would be up to the UN to make them public. Is the UN intending to make any or all of the Volcker documentation public...

Deputy Spokesman: As I --

Question: (inaudible) including the interviews with the Secretary-General?

Deputy Spokesman: I have nothing beyond what Iíve said on this, that right now the precise details of the documentation are being discussed between the UN and the committee.

Question: On another subject, are there any developments with regard to the work of the Alliance of Civilizations, and would it have any relationship to the project that will be launched tomorrow called Alliance for Humanity by Deepak Chopra and the Guatemalan Mission?

Deputy Spokesman: As far as I know, tomorrowís project is something being arranged by the Guatemalan Mission and, as of now, I donít have anything further on the Alliance, the other alliance that you are referring to.

Question: Clarify something. Does the Secretary-General not consider it an adverse finding that an official, whoís acting in his official capacity, claiming a tax exemption on behalf of the UN, and heís doing it at the behest of the Secretary Generalís son, apparently with no contact with any UN officials?

Deputy Spokesman: The report did not come up with adverse findings, and...

Question: (inaudible) financial situation.

Deputy Spokesman: ...we have nothing further to say. You can ask me many times, but I have nothing...

Question: Let me ask you another question. Why is the UN preaching accountability when people can do things at the behest of outside individuals in their official capacities and not be brought to account? Isnít that unaccountable?

Deputy Spokesman: I have nothing further to say. This question stems from your repeated questions every day, and I have nothing further...

Question: OK, just to clarify. Could you clarify then your comment, your policy is not to comment on anything in the Volcker report now, is that right? I thought weíd understood from what youíd said the other day that there was an investigation based on what was brought to light in the Volcker report.

Deputy Spokesman: I said we would be cooperating with, I would like to refer you to the statement that we had, and I donít want to read it over again, but in terms of going over...

Question: (inaudible), because you donít think from memory, to the UN, as well as national Governments was investigating, so Iím asking you in this particular case if Mr. Janneh, is he under investigation? Is the UN doing anything to investigate?

Deputy Spokesman: We have, the exact line from the report, from the remarks that I read, was that the UN and national authorities, if appropriate, will...

Question: Just a quick question. Would it not be appropriate, in the circumstance where a UN official is performing official functions at the behest of an outside individual whoís not a member of the UN, would it not be appropriate for the UN to investigate why that person is acting in that way?

Deputy Spokesman: You are asking the same question over and over again. We have nothing to say on the official that youíre referring to and the case that youíre referring to, and I...

Question: Is it the case actually that that official received official sanction from the UN Secretariat for doing what he did in his official capacity?

Deputy Spokesman: I have nothing further to say on this subject. Iím sorry.

(MINUTES LATER...)

Question: Is Shashi Tharoor on official UN business in India? Is the UN paying for him to be there?

Deputy Spokesman: Yesterday I mentioned to you, when I was clarifying a question from the previous day, that he is on leave in India.

Question: And there were some remarks that heíd given in which heíd said that national Governments would have to follow up on some of the claims made in the Volcker report, and he said the Volcker report was not a judge or a jury. I wondered if you could explain the apparent contradiction between that and the decision by the UN to unilaterally fire Joe Stephanides, based on the findings of the report?

Deputy Spokesman: On Shashi Tharoorís comments, yesterday I issued a clarification, after I spoke to him, on his comments on the reports that I was asked about, so Iíd like to refer you to that, and I have no comment right now on your other question.

Question: In the Volcker report, when it describes the meeting between Kojo Annan and Kofi Annan in the Hotel Crillon on November 28, 1998, a time that the Cotecna bid was being considered, Mike Wilson says that he was in the lobby of the Crillon Hotel and actually spoke to Kojo Annan while he was upstairs in the Secretary-Generalís room. Was the Secretary-General aware that his son was talking to Mike Wilson on the cellphone from his room while Michael Wilson was in the lobby downstairs?

Deputy Spokesman: Weíre not reopening the investigation. The Volcker Commission has finished its work in looking into this matter.

Question: Can you update us on the follow-up action? Iím confused, whatís the follow-up action now that the investigation is complete?

Deputy Spokesman: I just told you at the beginning of this meeting, so letís...

Question: Well, you were unable to tell me what the follow-up action was, so Iím pressing you on that point.

Deputy Spokesman: I mentioned to you that currently the Commission is still in place, that the UN is looking into arrangements for when the Commissionís existence will end, at the end of the month. I also told you that the UN is currently examining the companies named in the report, and in terms of the other recommendations on follow-up to the Volcker report, we had Chris Burnham come here and talk to you about management reform. We have various UN reform proposals going forward, and I just told Mark Turner that I would look into the latest proposal that he said was submitted, so...

SO. THE FARCE CONTINUES!