UNITED NATIONS – The United Nations suspended eight officials as part of an ongoing investigation of its procurement department and U.N. peacekeeping.
U.N. officials say the staffers have been put on "special leave without pay" but they will not say why. U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric would not confirm details Monday and stressed that the move is not punishment but more an administrative matter pending completion of the audit.
The U.N. procurement department is the purchasing arm that spends billions of the world body's dollars, most of them in connection with peacekeeping procedures. It has been under investigation and has been plagued with allegations of improprieties involving hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts.
Alexander Yakovlev, a top U.N. procurement official who had a hand in the scandal-ridden Oil-for-Food program, was arrested on Aug. 8 and pleaded guilty to conspiracy and money laundering as part of the procurement investigation. Yakovlev had a son who worked at a company that did business with the procurement department, a violation of the organization’s rules. Investigators found nearly $1million dollars in bribes in his secret Caribbean bank account.
While the United Nations will not confirm the names of those put on leave, FOX News reported late last year that the organization was investigating Sanjay Bahel, a former procurement officer who is now the head of the U.N. Post Office, in connection with contracts involving at least two companies. It has not been confirmed whether Bahel or his boss, Andrew Toh, are among the eight officials being suspended.
Toh, who serves as a U.N. assistant secretary general in charge of the U.N.'s office of central support services, defended the procurement department during an interview with FOX News last summer.
"In the area of procurement, I think we've achieved a very high level of transparency," Toh said, adding that the General Assembly has been satisfied with progress being made in that area. "I think the whole issue of accountability has been greatly enhanced in the process."
Christopher Burnham, undersecretary general for management, has told FOX News that there are a number of new investigations of the procurement department now ongoing.
So far, the U.N. scandals have led to the arrest of 11 people, most of which are related to the Oil-for-Food program; a grand jury continues to probe that program.
FOX News' Eric Shawn contributed to this report.