US senate investigation of UNDP’s DPRK programs

The US Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs published a report detailing the failure of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) to adequately monitor its projects in the DPRK. 

By way of background…In March 2007, the UNDP suspended its operations in North Korea because of the government’s refusal to agree to new measures designed to increase the transparency and accountability of the UNDP programs there. 

The subcommittee staff released the following findings:

1. UNDP operated in North Korea with inappropriate staffing, questionable use of foreign currency instead of local currency, and insufficient administrative and fiscal controls

  • UNDP’s DPRK office was staffed in large part with North Korean nationals who were selected by the DPRK, contrary to UNDP policy; 
  • UNDP paid the salaries of local staff directly to the North Korean government without any way of verifying that the salaries were properly disbursed and despite UNDP’s suspicion that the DPRK was, in the words of one UNDP official, “skimming” money from the payments; 
  • UNDP paid salaries and other expenses in convertible currencies, such as US Dollars or Euros, rather than in the local currency, contrary to UN best practices; 
  • UNDP was required to conduct its financial transactions using a DPRK state bank that accepted paperwork only from DPRK personnel, sometimes routed UNDP funds through an unrelated bank account, and, until recently, refused to provide UNDP with copies of cancelled checks;
  • UNDP was allowed to conduct on-site project visits only with prior notice and in the company of North Korean officials, contrary to UNDP best practices; and
  • The UNDP office in Pyongyang operated without secure communications, and the regime routinely monitored UN activity, going so far as to enter and search private residences of UN personnel.

2. By preventing access to its audits and not submitting to the jurisdiction of the UN Ethics Office, UNDP impeded reasonable oversight and undermined its whistleblower protections.

The UNDP commissioned four audits of its North Korean operations, in 1999, 2001, 2004, and 2007. Problems were identified in all four. The first three audits were nonpublic and, in accordance with UNDP policy, unavailable for review even by nations serving on the UNDP Executive Board. After repeated requests, UNDP made an exception to this policy and, in 2007, showed the audit reports to the US Mission to the United Nations, whose personnel were allowed to read but not copy them.

Beginning in 2005, Artjon Shkurtaj, then Operations Manager of the UNDP office in Pyongyang, raised concerns about management and operational deficiencies in UNDP operations. After raising these concerns, his employment contract was not renewed. He then filed a complaint with the UN Ethics Office claiming that UNDP had retaliated against him.  In August 2007, however, the Ethics Office determined that, although Mr. Shkurtaj had established “a prima facie case of retaliation,” it lacked jurisdiction to decide his claim and could protect only whistleblowers within the UN Secretariat.

3. In 2002, the DPRK government used its relationship with the United Nations to execute deceptive financial transactions by moving $2.72 million of its own funds from Pyongyang to DPRK diplomatic missions abroad through a bank account intended to be used solely for UNDP activities and by referencing UNDP in the wire transfer documents.

4. UNDP transferred UN funds to a company that, according to a letter from the US State Department to UNDP, has ties to an entity involved in DPRK weapons activity.

UNDP regularly made payments to contractors on behalf of other UN agencies operating in North Korea. During the course of its investigation, the Subcommittee learned that payments on behalf of other UN agencies – totaling approximately $50,000 – were made to an entity named Zang Lok Trading Co. in Macau. According to a letter dated June 7, 2007, to UNDP from the US Permanent Mission to the United Nations, Zang Lok “has ties to a North Korean entity that has been designated [by the US government] as the main North Korean financial agent for sales of conventional arms, ballistic missiles and goods related to the assembly and manufacture of such weapons.” UNDP maintains that it does not know, and has no way of knowing, whether Zang Lok is connected to North Korean weapons sales.

How much money are we talking about?
UNDP estimates that, from 1995 to 2005, it spent a total of about $33.5 million in North Korea. Of that figure, approximately $6 million was spent on UNDP office, staff, and operating expenses, including roughly $100,000 per year in payments to local staff and contractors, and $500,000 per year spent on rent, office supplies, transportation, employee compensation, and other expenses. An ongoing external audit is expected to refine these estimates. In addition, the UNDP office in North Korea made payments and provided administrative support on behalf of other UN Funds and Programs operating in North Korea including the United Nations Population Fund and United Nations Office for Project Services, among others. Total expenditures by all UN agencies in North Korea – excluding the World Food Program – during the same ten-year timeframe have been estimated at roughly $200 million.

Here is the full report: undpreport.pdf


Comments are closed.