Embattled Chief of U.N. Weather Agency Re-elected to 4-Year Term

The embattled chief of the U.N. weather agency on Wednesday won a second four-year term after imposing sweeping reforms in the wake of an embezzlement scandal and allegations of vote-buying in the previous election.

The 188-country governing congress of the World Meteorological Organization approved the new term for Michel Jarraud by acclamation because no opposition candidates were running.

"I'm very encouraged and very pleased by the strong support of the member states," Jarraud told The Associated Press. "Obviously the challenges are there — natural disasters, climate, water — and I'm even more determined now to address them."

Jarraud's fortunes appear to have turned around only four months after a confidential internal audit surfaced suggesting some of the US$3.5 million stolen by a former employee was used to influence votes in the 2003 election he won to become secretary-general of the WMO.

"They've come a long way," said retired Brig. Gen. J.J. Kelly, top U.S. representative to WMO and head of the agency's new watchdog Audit Committee. He praised Jarraud for the steps he has taken since 2004 to avoid new cases of fraudulent payments, including the implementation of new audit procedures.

Jarraud, who maintains he was uninvolved in any wrongdoing even though he was the agency's No. 2 at the time, conceded that the controls were too lax and said his first priority was to tighten them when he took over.

"What I wanted to put in place was something which makes it virtually impossible. You can never have a totally zero risk, but I wanted this risk to be minimized to the absolute minimum."

The British government's National Audit Office told the WMO meeting that internal controls at the agency were adequate for the first time since it took over supervision with the 2004 accounts, Kelly noted in a separate interview with the AP.

Swiss authorities, who have been conducting a criminal investigation into the embezzlement, have recovered US$300,000 (euro220,000) of the missing money and returned it to the agency, Jarraud said.

Earlier this month the Swiss investigation was widened into the allegations of vote buying, Geneva General Prosecutor Daniel Zappelli said. But he said WMO's cooperation had been good so far.

A former auditor at the agency, fired by Jarraud in 2005, has filed a lawsuit against WMO, Jarraud and others with a series of complaints.

Maria Veiga of Portugal also has challenged her dismissal through U.N. proceedings conducted by a personnel tribunal of the International Labor Organization.

The United States' Government Accountability Office is considering a request from nine members of the U.S. Congress to open its own investigation of the agency and of Veiga's dismissal, Kelly said.