Audit Shows U.N. Official Provided False Birth Date in Job Application

The head of the U.N. intellectual property agency gave an apparently false birth date that made him nine years older when he applied to join the body, an inaccuracy that may have helped him get hired and win promotions, a United Nations audit showed.

The confidential report, obtained by The Associated Press, said Kamil Idris changed his age back to the younger one last year — more than two decades after he had joined the World Intellectual Property Organization — a change that could enhance his retirement benefits. He has headed the agency since 1997.

The audit also raises questions about whether Idris gave incorrect information about his work history and college degrees before joining the U.N.

Idris, a Sudanese citizen partly educated in the United States, says he gave the wrong age due to a typographical error when he first applied to work for the agency in 1982. He rejects allegations he sought to benefit from the misstatement, or from the correction.

An internal investigator has refrained from saying which birth year — 1945 or 1954 — he thinks is correct. But his 35-page report lays out how the differences could have affected on Idris' career advancement and any future departure package.

The U.N. is already plagued by scandal including child abuse by peacekeeping forces and aid workers, and corruption of the oil-for-food program for Iraq under Saddam Hussein.

The audit lists identity documents, some using one birth date and some using the other. Idris' first attempt to set the record straight came last March, 24 years after he joined the agency, it said.

Idris was hired in 1982 for a job requiring a decade of professional experience. He claimed to be 37, the same age as the other two candidates, said the audit. According to his revised account, he was 28.

The document said there is strong evidence Idris' repeated use of the earlier birth date helped him win promotions until in 1997, he landed the job of director-general of the agency, which oversees world copyrights, patents and trademarks.

The audit said that by changing his age to the younger, Idris could "considerably benefit" by further building up U.N. pension credits before eventual retirement.

The audit also says the change could benefit Idris if he leaves soon because it would make him eligible for a severance payment that could be worth several hundred thousand dollars. The previous age would have made him 60 in 2005 and no longer eligible for severance if he left after that point.

WIPO defended Idris, saying the allegations smacked of racism.

"The rectification will result in a considerable financial reduction in the pension of the director general," said a WIPO statement. "These are not new allegations but recycled issues that are raised again to feed what appears to be a racist harassment campaign."

The statement said Idris corrected the date "at his own initiative" to "ensure that no benefits would derive from this mistake."

Attempts to directly contact Idris were unsuccessful.

The audit says the senior WIPO official who conducted the investigation "found no evidence of any formal attempts," by Idris or the administration to rectify the alleged error until March 2006.

The audit — details of which first surfaced last week in the Geneva daily Le Temps and an online site, Intellectual Property Watch — also raises questions about other information Idris submitted in his initial application.

According to the new birth year, Idris would have been 13 years old when he claimed to have held his first part-time and full-time posts at the national level in Sudan.

"Mr. Idris explained that these were temporary jobs that he assumed since his young age, in order to sustain his family and enable him to study," the report says.

He said in his application that, when he was 23, he was deputy director of the legal department in the Sudanese Foreign Ministry from 1977 to 1978. But at the same time, he was studying at Ohio University nearly 7,000 miles away in the United States.

Idris' 1982 application said he obtained a masters degree in international law from Ohio University in 1978. But Jessica Stark, spokeswoman for the university, told the AP Idris attended from Sept 12, 1977, to June 10, 1978, when he received a Master of Arts in African Studies.

Adding to the confusion, the audit said Idris registered at the university with a third birth date — August 26, 1953, a year earlier than the revised date.

U.N. officials said they could not release the audit because it was confidential. The AP obtained it through other sources and confirmed its authenticity with officials.