Jordan will boycott a controversial U.N. session on international criminal justice and reconciliation, because of concerns that the Serbian president of the General Assembly will use the event to marshal unfair criticism of the U.N. tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.
Jordan's ambassador to the U.N., Prince Zeid Ra'ad Zeid al-Hussein, outlined his intention in a meeting with Arab ambassadors last week and will raise it on Friday with representatives of the Organization of the Islamic Conference. He also blocked a move by the Non-Aligned movement, a bloc of 120 developing countries, to issue a statement in support of the April 10 meeting.
The one-man protest is somewhat quixotic -- as few other countries have expressed an interest in following his example. But it provided a rare case of a senior U.N. diplomat -- one who served as a U.N. political officer in Bosnia when Bosnian Serb forces massacred thousands of Bosnian Muslim men in Srebrenica -- throwing a wrench into the diplomatic niceties at the U.N.
The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), which has indicted more than 90 Serbian nationals, including former President Slobodan Milosevic, has been unpopular among many Serbs, who feel it has gone too soft on Croatian and Bosnian Muslim war criminals. Vuk Jeremic, the former Serbian foreign minister who is serving as president of the U.N. General Assembly, has been a sharp critic of the court. He scheduled the April 10 meeting after the court's appeal chamber acquitted two Croatian generals, Ante Gotovina and Mladic Markac, convicted by a lower court of carrying out mass atrocities against ethnic Serbs during Operation Storm in the Kraijina region of Croatia.
The timing of the U.N. event -- the meeting coincides with the 71st anniversary of the founding of the pro-Nazi Croatian state -- has fueled concerns among many delegates that the event will be used to bash the tribunal, and that Jeremic is stacking the attendees of a pair of panels with critics of the court.
In a recent interview, Jeremic said that while he had selected the date to honor the victims of the Croatian fascists during World War II he saw the event as an opportunity to ponder the lessons learned from a broad range of international U.N. courts established since the end of the Cold War. He also said that his own efforts to include a balanced slate of speakers has been confounded by unnamed states who have pressured them not to participate.
In recent weeks, several prominent attendees -- including the president of the International Criminal Court, Song Sang-Hyun -- who had previously planned to attend the conference have pulled out of the event, Jeremic confirmed. Others include the president of the Assembly of States Parties for the International Criminal Court, Tina Intelmann; the U.N. secretary general's special advisor on the prevention of genocide, Adama Dieng; the executive director of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth; and the U.N. secretary general's lawyer, Patricia O'Brien, according to Jeremic.
The Jordanian diplomat's action is motivated by his own personal experience in Bosnia in the 1990s, where he served as a U.N. peacekeeper. In 1998, Zeid helped spearhead a General Assembly resolution calling on the Secretary General Kofi Annan to conduct a review of the U.N.'s response to the massacre in Srebrenica.
Zeid has also been a chief proponent of international justice. He served from 2002 to 2005 as the first president of the Assembly of States Parties for the International Criminal Court.
"The president of the General Assembly has done little to conceal his motives regarding the thematic debate on the 10th of April, which has prompted many of the more notable early participants to withdraw," Zeid told Turtle Bay. "They are not fooled. I was in the former Yugoslavia from 1994-1996 and, in view of what I know to be true, will also, together with my delegation, be nowhere near the event. We will encourage other delegations in the coming days to do likewise."
The United States and European governments have also raised concerns with Jeremic in private about the timing of the event and his handling of the conference, which will begin with a public meeting of the full General Assembly, including a speech by Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic, and then break off into two separate afternoon panel discussions. But they have stopped short of boycotting, and intend to send lower-ranking diplomats to the event to register their displeasure, according to diplomats. The U.S. mission to the United Nations declined to comment on the event. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's office said recently that Ban would attend the session, unless he was out of town.
Christian Wenewaser, Liechtenstein's U.N. ambassador, who also served as the president of the ICC's Assembly of States Parties, shared many of Zeid's concern about Jeremic's handling of the event. He said that while he welcomed a debate on international criminal justice, Jeremic had focused the too narrowly on the Yugoslav tribunal and that he has ignored expressions of concern from other member states. But he is not prepared to join Zeid's boycott. "Unfortunately, this is a lost opportunity that could have been a good thing, which is now not going to be a good thing," he said.
"We haven't decided that boycotting the event is the most effective way of dealing with this," he added. "There is also an argument in favor of saying the right thing and if no one is there will be no one to say the right thing."
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Have U.S. conservatives really lost the war on the International Criminal Court?
A decade ago, President George W. Bush's U.N. envoy, John Negroponte, threatened to shut down U.N. peacekeeping missions from Bosnia to Guatemala if the U.N. Security Council failed to immunize American peacekeepers from prosecution by the International Criminal Court (ICC). The Bush administration threatened to cut aid to America's military allies if they failed to sign pacts -- known as Article 98 Agreements -- vowing never to surrender a U.S. citizen to the Hague-based court. John Bolton, the Republicans' fiercest foe of the court, declared the day he reversed the Clinton administration's decision to sign the treaty establishing the court his happiest. "I felt like a kid on Christmas day," he wrote in his memoir. The very future of the international tribunal appeared to be at risk.
Today, the Security Council routinely passes resolutions expanding the scope of the international court and few pay it any notice. Last year, the Security Council cited the ICC in resolutions nine times, including in a December resolution -- 2085 -- that requires peacekeepers in Mali to support "national and international efforts, including those of the International Criminal Court, to bring to justice perpetrators of serious human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law."
It's not that conservatives are ready to embrace the ICC. Fears that the court may one day turn its sites on America's allies in Jerusalem have been reawakened by the Palestinian Authority's warnings that it may file a complaint with the tribunal over Israel's settlement policies. But conservatives have shown considerably less interest in the court's other investigations, particularly in Africa.
Last month, ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda opened a formal investigation into alleged crimes in Mali, citing "deeds of brutality and destruction" by armed insurgents who seized control of several towns in northern Mali early last year. The prosecutor recently put Malian government troops on notice that they could potentially face prosecution for rights abuses too. The court has also been stepping up pressure on the Libyan government to surrender slain Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi's former intelligence chief, Abdullah Senussi.
France's U.N. envoy Gérard Araud told Turtle Bay that the "routine" references to the global court constitute "recognition of the ICC as a key actor" on the international stage, one that is helping to end "impunity for the perpetrators of the worst atrocities." Given the court's early struggles, the broad acceptance of the tribunal, even by its big-power critics, is nothing short of "amazing," he said.
Still, it may be premature to declare victory for the ICC.
The court has opened 18 cases and jailed six people, including the former president of Ivory Coast, but it has so far succeeded in convicting only one war criminal: Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga, who was sentenced last summer to 14 years in prison for recruiting child soldiers. Three of the Security Council's veto-wielding members -- China, Russia, and the United States -- have never joined the tribunal, fearing that it could potentially subject their nationals or those of their allies to prosecution by a court beyond their control. The council's two most important initiatives in support of the court -- the authorization of prosecutions of Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir and of Qaddafi and his inner circle -- have gone nowhere. And the council has done little to use its influence and power to compel the Sudanese or the Libyans to cooperate with the court.
"We are seeing increasing evidence that the ICC is -- and is seen as -- a permanent fixture in the international firmament," said James Goldston, a former coordinator of ICC prosecutions who now serves as executive director of the Open Society's Justice Initiative. "Too often, however, states' support for the ICC has been uneven -- strong when Security Council referral to the ICC is a way for the council to show resolve, weak when the ICC needs political backing to do its work."
The council's embrace of the ICC as a political cudgel has evolved against a backdrop of mounting anxiety -- and, in some cases, outright hostility -- toward the court in Africa, where most of the tribunal's prosecutions have played out. In Kenya, the country's national assembly passed a motion in 2010 urging the government to withdraw from the treaty body establishing the ICC. The move followed the prosecutor's announcement that the court would pursue charges against six Kenyans, including a presidential candidate, Uhuru Kenyatta, for crimes against humanity. These sentiments have fueled charges that the court has become an instrument of big-power bullying, not a forum for justice. "The structural issues that lead many to suggest double standards are real," Goldston said. The fact that three powers are not parties to the ICC, and have the power to refer cases, is an "inherent problem." At the same time, he added, "I think the current moment is a period in which the court is getting more traction."
In Washington, the court faces far fewer of the fiery broadsides and political threats that marked the conservative campaign to gut it in its infancy. "It's clear that things have softened since" the early years of the Bush administration," said Kenneth Anderson, a professor at American University's College of Law, noting that many American conservatives have "lost interest" in the tribunal. As long as the ICC prosecutor does not try to prosecute U.S. and Israel officials -- the "last true red lines" -- it will likely remain that way, he said. "The United States has made its peace on both sides of the political aisle with the existence of the International Criminal Court and with the functioning of the ICC as long as it doesn't get too close to the United States," Anderson added.
In some ways, the the Security Council's routine references to the global court reflect the degree to which it has become an accepted institution. In the end, even President Bush made his peace with the court, standing aside in March 2005, when the Security Council adopted a resolution ordering an investigation into massive crimes by Sudanese authorities in Darfur, Sudan.
The Obama administration has shown even greater sympathy for the court, but its backing has been limited and discrete, primarily coming in the form of allowing references to the ICC in Security Council resolutions and voting in favor of the 2011 resolution opening the prosecution of Qaddafi and his associates. The White House's commitment has been selective, according to observers.
"I think the United States is interested in constant engagement with the ICC if it serves their purpose. It's very ad hoc," said Christian Wenaweser, Liechtenstein's U.N. ambassador and the former president of the ICC's assembly of states parties. "They supported a Libya referral [when Qaddafi was in power] but they did not support any statements that would require the Libyans to cooperate with the ICC. They went with the approach of letting the Libyans do it themselves."
Wenaweser said he agrees that the increased ICC-related activity at the Security Council indicates that the organization is becoming "part of the mainstream political discussion," but he added that it's harder to make the argument that it reflects "stronger political acceptance or support by the Security Council."
Brett Schaefer, a U.N. expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation, agrees. He said that the Obama administration's cautious approach to the court has given conservatives little cause for alarm.
"There was a lot of concern when the Obama administration came into office that it would implement a significant shift in U.S. policy towards the court," Schaefer said. "But instead, the shift has been quite moderate." The United States, he said, has cooperated in limited circumstances with the ICC prosecutor, increased rhetorical backing for the court, and permitted Security Council references to the court that don't cross American red lines.
"For the most part the policy's settled. It's because of that that the concerns conservatives had in 2008 and 2009 have been lessened," Schaefer said. But if ICC investigations clash with American interests in places like Afghanistan or the Middle East, he added, it could lead to a revival of U.S. opposition -- not only from conservatives, but also from Democratic lawmakers and the wider public.
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Today's U.N. General Assembly vote elevating Palestine to a "non-member observer state" will do little to confer Palestinians the trappings of a truly independent state.
But what it will do is provide the Palestinians with a ticket to the International Criminal Court (ICC), where membership is available to all states, not just full-fledged members of the United Nations. It will also provide the Palestinians with a new lever to pressure Israel from continuing its expansion of Israeli settlements.
The prospects of Palestinian membership in the ICC, which could place Palestinian territories under the court's jurisdiction for the first time, has alarmed Israel and the United States, who fear it may lead to the prosecution of Israeli soldiers.
It has also rattled Europeans, who support the ICC but fret that Palestinian membership in the tribunal would complicate efforts to restart peace talks.
President Barack Obama has leaned heavily on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to put off his U.N. statehood bid. In a sign of the importance, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns promised Wednesday that if Abbas backed away, Obama would re-engage as a mediator in 2013, the Associated Press reported.
"This resolution is not going to take them closer to statehood," Victoria Nuland told reporters on Wednesday. "It does nothing to get them closer to statehood, and it may actually make the environment more difficult."
Britain has led diplomatic efforts to persuade Abbas to offer assurances that he will not join the Hague-based court until the Middle East Peace Process is concluded. Britain has also pressed Abbas to agree to resume negotiations with Israel after today's vote without preconditions."
The Palestinians' U.N. envoy Riyad Mansour, told reporters this week that his government had no intention of immediately joining the ICC but that it intended to keep the option on the table. He also hinted that the Palestinians would consider going to the court if Israel continues its settlement policy.
"I don't believe that we are going to be rushing the second day to join everything related to the United Nations, including the ICC," he told reporters this week. "But, at the same time, it is not fair for us to tie our own hands [against] all the possibilities that could be available to us." Characterizing Israeli's settlement policy as war crime, Mansour raised the possibility of going to the court if Israel continues to expand settlements.
There is a provision in the Rome Statue, the treaty establishing the international tribunal, that could apply to Israel's settlement policy. It defines, as a war crime, the "transfer, directly or indirectly, by the Occupying Power of parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies, or the deportation or transfer of all or parts of the population of the occupied territory within or outside this territory."
Christian Wenewaser, Liechtenstein's U.N. ambassador and the former president of the ICC's assembly of states parties, said that the Palestinians cannot dictate which specific crimes the ICC's prosecutor might choose to examine, and that it could only invite the prosecutor to investigate a general situation where large-scale crimes have been committed.
That, he noted, raises the prospects that the prosecutor could turn her sights on Palestinian extremists who have been firing rockets into Israel. Wenewaser said he believes that the Palestinians will not immediately approach the court. "I think they will let this sit for a while," said "They will just use the threat of resubmitting [a claim] as leverage to stop the settlement policy."
In January 2009, the Palestinians appealed to the Hague-based criminal court to open an investigation into Israeli conduct during a three-week operation in the Gaza Strip that began in December 2008. Earlier this year, the court's then-prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, said he lacked the authority to rule on the decision.
Today's votes leave the Palestinians two main options: they can either resubmit their request to the new prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, as a U.N.-recognized observer state, potentially providing the court with jurisdiction on past crimes. They can also become a member of the International Criminal Court, and pursue a prosecution there.
Jim Goldston, the executive director of Justice Initiative at the Open Society Foundations, said that there are a number legal hurdles that must be crossed before the court could decide whether to take on an investigation in Israel. For one, it remains unclear how the prosecutor could determine the territory under which it can exercise jurisdiction.
It also remains unclear whether the prosecutor will have jurisdiction over alleged crimes dating back to 2002, when the ICC treaty came into force, or only those committed after Palestine becomes a member of the court. Also, the International Criminal Court's treaty grants preference to national prosecutors to carry out prosecutions, if they can demonstrate the have the means and will to do it. Israel would likely to argue that its court's are capable and willing to conduct credible investigations into alleged war crimes in Palestinian lands.
Meanwhile, Goldston said that placing Israel within the court's possible jurisdiction would help address complaints, particularly within Africa, that the court only pursues war criminals that lack powerful patrons."The ICC has been plagued by question of selectivity and alleged double standard, the idea that certain states are subject to the law, and others have political protection, and are not subject to the law. This would open up the possibility of more equitable administration of justice. I think this would be a positive thing."
But that could come at the cost of the ICC's improving relationship with the United States.
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I've been reading Kofi Annan's upcoming memoir, Interventions: A Life in Peace and War, and just ran across a fascinating passage describing a friendly luncheon, well maybe not so friendly, the then-U.N. chief had with the Supreme Court justices during a visit to Washington, D.C.
Justice Stephen Breyer had invited Annan to sit for "salads and sandwiches" with the Supremes, apparently part of a local D.C. tradition for famous visitors.
The conversation turned to the establishment of an International Criminal Court, which was established in 2002 to prosecute individuals for massive crimes, including genocide and war crimes. And it quickly grew contentious.
"I'll be damned if I'm going to let my son be dragged before some foreign kangaroo court to face judgment," said one of the judges, who is not named, but is said to have a son who had served as a U.S. Army captain in Iraq. (Justice Antonin Scalia's son, Matthew, served as a U.S. Army captain in Iraq.)
Annan appeared to have been taken aback by the reaction, saying that while he knew that many American politicians and commentators were hostile to the court he was surprised to here it put so bluntly by a Supreme Court Justice.
"I tried to reassure the irate justice about the procedures that were in place to stop frivolous prosecutions; that the ICC would act only when there was a credible accusation and the state in questions was unwilling or unable to investigate and prosecute the matter," Annan wrote. "He was unconvinced."
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I've been busy over the past couple of days reporting out a story on the collapse of U.N. diplomacy in Syria, but I wanted to take out a few moments to weigh in on a report in the Guardian this morning on Rwanda.
The Guardian's Chris McGreal reported that the Obama administration's ambassador-at-large for war crimes, Stephen Rapp, warned Rwandan President Paul Kagame that he may face prosecution for war crimes if his government continues to support a Congolese mutiny, known as M23, led by Bosco Ntaganda, an accused war criminal wanted by the International Criminal Court.
"At this stage, I'm not sure if we are there in terms of criminal conduct," Rapp told the Guardian. "But if this kind of thing continued and groups that were being armed were committing crimes ... then I think you would have a situation where individuals who were aiding them from across the border could be held criminally liable."
The stark warning follows the release of a damning U.N. Group of Experts report that accused Rwandan military leaders, including Kagame's defense minister, James Kabarebe, of backing the mutineers. (See my previous posts on this here and here.) The report accused the Rwandan brass of recruiting, organizing, funding, and arming the rebellion.
On Saturday, the U.S. State Department announced a cut off $200,000 in military assistance to Rwanda, citing its alleged support for the mutiny. It is considering whether to pursue additional steps.
"The Department is deeply concerned about the evidence that Rwanda is implicated in the provision of support to Congolese rebel groups, including M23," read the State Department announcement. "As a result, we will not obligate $200,000 in Fiscal Year 2012 FMF [Foreign Military Assistance] funds that were intended to support a Rwandan academy for non commissioned officers."
For anybody that has followed Rwanda in recent years, the U.S. action amounts to a dramatic shift in its approach to Kagame's government.
The Clinton administration's top national security leadership -- including Susan Rice, the current U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, who served as Clinton's assistant secretary of state for African affairs -- had long expressed regrets over having failed to act decisively to halt the Rwandan genocide in 1994.
But Washington has strongly supported the government since, and successive Democratic and Republican administrations have rallied behind President Kagame, even as he and his top advisors have faced allegations of war crimes in the years following the genocide in Rwanda and Eastern Congo. Only last month, Congolese officials and human rights advocates had accused the United States of blocking the release of the U.N. Group of Experts report, a claim that the Americans denied. The United States ultimately supported the report's publication.
Rwanda, meanwhile, has denied the U.N. charges of backing Congo's mutineers, saying that the Americans are acting on bad information. "We must make clear to our friends in Washington and elsewhere that this decision is based on bad information, and is wrong in facts," Rwanda's Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo, said in a response to the U.S. decision to cut military aid. "As we have made clear from the outset, Rwanda is neither the cause nor the enabler of instability in DRC."Follow me on Twitter @columlynch
THOMAS SAMSON/AFP/Getty Images
Last week, Arizona's Republican governor Janice Brewer accused the Obama administration of subjecting U.S. immigration law to U.N. review, saying it was an example of "internationalism run amok and unconstitutional."
But Obama is hardly the first American president to consult the United Nations. In fact, Republican administrations have been subjecting policies on immigration, detention treatment, and a host of other human rights issues to some form of scrutiny by the U.N. and other international bodies for years.
Brewer was protesting the Obama administration's inclusion of a provision highlighting the Department of Justice's efforts to challenge a controversial Arizona immigration law, SB 1070, which expands police powers to detain anyone suspected of being an illegal alien.
Ezio Testa, an Italian executive, built a lucrative business in the late 1990s helping to supply U.N. peacekeepers with the food rations, body armor, and other essentials they need to sustain themselves in the world's nastiest conflict zones. But Testa held an improper edge over his competitors, according to an internal U.N. investigation: He was paying for inside information about upcoming contracts.
The details of Testa's murky empire are brought to light in a previously unreported December 2008 letter, marked "strictly confidential" and sent by an internal U.N. watchdog, the U.N. Procurement Task Force, to the lawyers of U.S. security contractor Armor Holdings. The letter, obtained by Turtle Bay, spells out how Testa paid for illegal information from a U.N. procurement officer, Alexander Yakovlev, on behalf of a former executive at Armor Holdings. Testa and Yakovlev then "entered into a corrupt agreement to steer a valuable United Nations contract to Armor Holdings in exchange for promises of sums of money to be paid to the individual participants," the letter concludes. Such confidential information subsequently helped Armor Holdings win a contract for bullet-proof vests for a U.N. peacekeeping mission.
What emerges is a picture of a man whose career flourished in the shadows of the U.N. system as he acted as a fixer for multinational corporations seeking access to contracts for servicing the U.N.'s expanding peacekeeping empire. U.N. investigators from the task force had previously linked Testa to Eurest Support Services International (ESS), a subsidiary of the world's largest food caterer, Compass Group, which improperly secured contracts for more than $100 million for food and other supplies. His allegedly illicit activities were first reported in a 2005 series by Fox News. And Testa's company was later blacklisted by the United Nations.
Neither Testa, IHC, or ESS were prosecuted for their alleged role in the food-ration scheme. But ESS's parent company, Compass Group, settled a lawsuit from two competitors who claimed they'd lost their bids because of fraudulent behavior. Compass paid more than $70 million to the two companies, but did not accept liability.
The U.N. letter, however, discloses new details, most importantly by connecting Testa and Yakovlev directly to a wide-ranging criminal investigation by the U.S. Justice Department into bid-rigging by former officials at Armor Holdings and other security contractors. Testa's contact at Armor Holdings was Richard Bistrong, a former senior official who was charged in January with paying bribes to officials in the Netherlands and in the United Nations to secure insider information on contracts for bullet-proof vests.
Yakovlev pleaded guilty in 2005 to unrelated federal charges that he received about $1 million in bribes for insider information from companies seeking U.N. contracts. Both men's cases have been reported previously, Bistrong's by the New York Times last month. But this is the first time that Bistrong, Testa, and Yakovlev have all been linked.
Testa declined to comment on
the case, saying he had no idea that he was tied to the Bistrong case through
his alleged links to Armor Holdings. "I am unaware of what you are telling me,"
he said before hanging up. A spokeswoman for the Justice Department, Laura Sweeney, declined to say whether
Testa himself was the target of a federal criminal investigation.
Becoming a player
Testa first came on the scene in 1996, heading the firm IHC Services Inc., which offered consulting services to large multinationals looking to tap into the billions of dollars the United Nations spends each year to service its 18 peacekeeping missions. On his personal website, Testa, who obtained U.S. citizenship in 2004, describes himself as an expert in "cost control." A longer online profile recounts his career as a senior executive at Torno Construction, one of Europe's largest construction firms. He has built oil pipelines between Turkey and Iraq, assisted U.N. peacekeeping missions in Africa, and helped with preparations for Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2002. "We put 18,000 troops in the middle of the Kuwaiti desert where there was nothing but sand … and in 96 days they had everything."
Testa established himself as a player into the late 1990s, appointing one of the U.N.'s best-known diplomats, Giandomenico Picco, as chairman of the IHC board of directors, a position he held even as he continued to serve as a top U.N. official. Testa also cultivated personal relationships with members of an obscure community of U.N. procurement officers. Prizing secrecy, Testa required companies he represented to sign confidentiality agreements that prohibited them from acknowledging they had ever hired him, according to the U.N. task force's 2006 report.
In 1998, Testa met Yakovlev, a U.N. procurement officer from Russia, and offered to help him start up his own business in Moscow. Yakovlev hoped his company would market a product called Oilgater, which uses germs to erode grease and oil. Before long, Yakovlev, still a U.N. procurement officer despite his private business activities on the side, furnished Testa and his clients with internal documents that helped them secure U.N. business, according to the letter and the 2006 report. Testa gave Yakovlev a mobile telephone and paid the bill. In May 2000, Testa hired Yakovlev's son Dmitry at IHC as a low-level administrative assistant.
How Testa and Yakovlev first got involved with Bistrong is unclear, but the letter accuses Testa of providing confidential information to representatives of Supercraft (Europe) Ltd., a London-based subsidiary of Armor Holdings, in exchange for about $200,000 in cash payments. According to the letter, the firm's managing director sent Testa an email in May 2001 seeking "confidential and proprietary" information from a source inside the U.N. procurement department. Four months later, Testa sent the managing director's boss, Bistrong, a copy of an internal U.N. memo with technical evaluation for an ongoing bid for bulletproof vests. "This confidential information was furnished to Bistrong by Testa in an email instructing him to '[p]lease destroy after reading,'" according to the letter.
A 2007 filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission by Armor Holdings confirms that one of its subsidiaries hired Testa's company, IHC, to help prepare a bid proposal for the purchase of body armor for U.N. peacekeepers.
Yakovlev first became a target of a U.N. investigation into corruption in the oil for food program in Iraq. In 2006, the United Nation task force produced a report that spelled out how "Mr. Yakovlev and Mr. Testa engaged in corrupt practices involving important United Nations business and procurement exercises." Yakovlev resigned from the United Nations in June 2005 and was subsequently arrested and pleaded guilty for fraud and money laundering in the southern district court in Manhattan (though he was never sentenced and remains free). Also as a result of that investigation, Testa's company was suspended from the U.N. list of approved contractors. John Suttle, a spokesman for BAE Systems, which bought Armor Holdings in July 2007, said that Armor severed relations with IHC at that time.
Suttle said the company dismissed officials implicated in the alleged scheme after it conducted its own investigation into the U.N.'s findings. He said his company has cooperated fully with U.N. and federal investigators and that the U.N. ultimately withdrew the letter to reflect that cooperation.
As part of his plea agreement, Yakovlev agreed to cooperate with the prosecution, according to his lawyer Arkady Bukh. Bukh said he did not believe Yakovlev was a target of the ongoing federal investigation into Bistrong, but he said he could neither admit nor deny that his client was cooperating with federal investigators in that case. Bistrong's lawyer, Brady Toensing, declined to comment.
Another compounding detail of the case comes from Bistrong's personal entanglements. He was married to a former U.S. ambassador at the United Nations, Nancy Soderberg, who oversaw U.N. peacekeeping operations for the United States. But the alleged crimes occurred after Soderberg, who served under the Clinton administration, had left the United Nations. And she has not been linked to the case. They have since divorced.
Investigation issues at the U.N.
In addition to flagging serious
concerns about the transparency of the U.N. procurement system in recent years,
the case also raises questions about how the United Nations investigates
incidents of internal corruption. The investigation into Armor Holdings is one
of corruption probes conducted by the now-defunct U.N. procurement task
force from 2006 until 2009, when its mandate expired. That task force
specialized in white-collar criminal investigations, some of which have led to
criminal investigation in U.S. courts.
While its mandate lasted, the task force faced intense criticism from the governments of Singapore and Russia, whose nationals were targeted by its investigations. In December 2008, Russia pressed for the barring of any task force members from being hired by the United Nations. The U.N. leadership, meanwhile, blocked the hiring of the task force's chairman, Robert Appleton, last year on the grounds that there were no women or non-American candidates on the shortlist.
The expertise amassed from the task force was supposed to be incorporated into the investigations division in the U.N.'s internal oversight office. But the task force and most of its staff have left the United Nations, and the U.N. has been slow to hire new investigators, undercutting its capacity to police itself.
U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said that "all hiring of personnel has to comply with the guidelines that include steps to ensure that all hiring processes are fair and take into account a wide range of candidates."
Former Liberian President Charles Taylor, testifying in his own war crimes trial today, said that the American conservative evangelist Pat Robertson was awarded a Liberian gold-mining concession in 1999 and subsequently offered to lobby the Bush administration to support his government.
The revelations came in the midst of a U.N.-backed trial of Taylor at The Hague on 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity during Sierra Leone's 1990s civil war. Taylor is accused of directing a Sierra Leone rebel group, the United Revolutionary Front (RUF), in a campaign aimed at securing access to the country's diamond mines. The rebel movement stands accused of committing mass atrocities in the late 1990s in the West African country, including the mutilation of thousands of civilians.
The international prosecutors contend that Taylor offered concessions to Western individuals in exchange for lobbying work aimed at enhancing his image in the United States. The prosecution maintains that Taylor also spent $2.6 million on lobbying firms and public relations outfits in the hopes of influencing the policies of former President Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
Under cross-examination, Taylor said that Robertson had volunteered to make Liberia's case before U.S. administration officials, and had spoken directly to President Bush about Taylor. He also confirmed that Robertson's company, Freedom Gold Limited, signed an agreement to exploit gold in southeastern Liberia, but that it never generated any profit.
"Mr. Taylor, indeed at one point you said that you can count on Pat Robertson to get Washington on your side," he was asked by the lead prosecution counsel, Col. Brenda Hollis, a former U.S. Air Force officer. Taylor replied: "I don't recall the exact words, but something to that effect."
A spokesman for Robertson, Chris Roslan, confirmed that Robertson was awarded a gold exploration concession by the Liberian government during the 1990s. But he said that there was "no quid pro quo" to provide the government with anything in return. Roslan said the company, Freedom Gold, is no longer in operation and has never found any gold.
"This concession was granted by the Liberian government to promote economic activity and alleviate the suffering of the people of Liberia following a terrible civil war," said Roslan, adding that Robertson had never met Taylor or paid him any money. "Freedom Gold accomplished this by employing some 200 Liberians in addition to providing humanitarian efforts including free medical care and installation of clean water wells for area residents."
Longtime Washington Post correspondent Colum Lynch reports on all things United Nations for Turtle Bay.