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Second Former U.N. Worker Seeks Whistleblower Protection

A second former employee of the U.N. anti-poverty agency is seeking whistleblower protection from the U.N. Ethics Office, claiming he was fired in retaliation for raising complaints to his superiors, his legal adviser said Thursday.

Mathieu Credo Koumoin, a native of the Ivory Coast who worked for the U.N. Development Program in West Africa, sent a letter to U.N. ethics chief Robert Benson on Tuesday, asking him to review his case under the U.N.'s new whistleblower protection rules, said his counsel, Jeanne-Marie Col.

The request comes weeks after Artjon Shkurtaj, the former operations officer for UNDP in North Korea, also sought whistleblower protection from the Ethics Office, claiming he lost his job after making allegations about the agency's financial transactions in the communist country.

The cases present a serious challenge to the Ethics Office two years after then-Secretary-General Kofi Annan signed the U.N.'s first whistleblower protection policy.

The policy requires all U.N. employees to report any breach of the organization's rules and regulations and offers them protection from retaliation if they do so. But Shkurtaj's case has been rejected on a technical jurisdiction issue, drawing criticism from the U.N. Staff Union and members of the U.S. Congress.

Benson said last month there was enough initial evidence to support an investigation into Shkurtaj's claims of retaliation, but the UNDP refused to cooperate on grounds that its operations are not covered by the Ethics Office.

Because it has its own governing board, the UNDP cannot be investigated by the Ethics Office unless it so requests. Instead, UNDP has said it will seek an external review of its now-defunct North Korea program.

In the new case, Col said Koumoin's contract with UNDP was not renewed last year after he approached his superiors with complaints that "things were not being done properly" in the agency's West Africa program. She declined to specify what the complaints were because the case is currently being reviewed by the U.N. Joint Appeals Board.

"He took his grievances to his superiors and he was ignored and he was fired and he was retaliated against," said Col, a professor at John Jay College in New York and a member of the U.N. Panel of Counsel, which provides volunteer legal advice to U.N. staffers.

"He was close to a promotion and his evaluations were consistent with being promoted," she said. "But a performance review dated after he was fired says he was poor performer."

Koumoin has been out of work for months, Col said.

UNDP spokesman David Morrison said the agency was awaiting the Joint Appeals Board's ruling in the case and declined to comment on it. He said, however, that UNDP has its own whistleblower protection mechanisms in place that have "been applied successfully in the past."

The U.N. spokesman's office confirmed that the Ethics Office had received Koumoin's letter, but it also declined to comment further.

Meanwhile, pressure mounted Thursday for the UNDP to allow the Ethics Office to investigate Shkurtaj's claims of retaliation.

Morrison of the UNDP has said that Shkurtaj's claims of retaliation are "without basis."

Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, the ranking Republican on the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee, sent a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urging him to intervene in the case, calling it "a fundamental test of the U.N.'s whistleblower protection policy."

Click here to read the letter (pdf).

"Allowing a U.N. system entity to claim immunity from the Ethics Office process, when faced with the prospect of an adverse ruling would represent the complete evisceration of that much-touted reform," Ros-Lehtinen said in the letter, a reply to a previous Ban message.

Click here to read Ban's letter (pdf).

Ban said last month he hopes the General Assembly will look at the issue again "and give clear guidelines" so that the Ethics Office will have jurisdiction over all U.N. funds and programs.

Also Thursday, the Senate passed an amendment to the foreign operations appropriations bill that would require the UNDP to institute a whistleblower protection policy before U.S. funding to the agency can be disbursed. The overall bill passed Thursday night.

The U.S. contributed nearly $245 million to the UNDP last year, according to the office of Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., who introduced the amendment.

Coleman said the Ethics Office's lack of jurisdiction over the agency has had a "chilling effect on UNDP's employees and their willingness to expose wrongdoings in the organization."

Morrison of the UNDP has said that Shkurtaj's claims of retaliation are "without basis.".