NEW YORK – Catherine Elizabeth Gazzoli is a 29-year-old freelance Internet designer and consultant who has won a wide variety of Internet-oriented consulting contracts over the past five years from different divisions of the sprawling United Nations bureaucracy.
Just from June 16, 2006, to the present, Gazzoli on her personal Web site declares that she has worked virtually simultaneously as a consultant on five different projects for the United Nations Department of Political Affairs (UNDPA), the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), and the U.N.'s Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA).
The same personal Web site says she is still working on all five — the majority of which is with one part of UNDESA, the Division for Public Administration and Development Management (DPADM) — a part of the U.N. devoted, among other things, to promoting greater transparency and openness in government bureaucracies around the world.
But there is little or no transparency surrounding the internal operations of DPADM itself, including its dealings with Gazzoli. UNDESA, which has a biennial budget of nearly $268 million for 2005 and 2006, does not reveal any information on specific payments to freelance consultants and contractors.
At the moment, the innocuous-sounding U.N. division is also embroiled in a bitter international controversy over the alleged abuse of $5 million in Greek government funds as a result of a project overseen by DPADM's director, Guido Bertucci. Auditors from the U.N.'s watchdog Office of Internal Oversight Services are still investigating that charge, which has been leveled by the Greek government itself.
On Nov. 9, the U.N.'s outgoing Under Secretary-General for Management, Christopher Burnham, wrote an official letter to Greek Interior Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos agreeing that the Greek protests "had raised important issues and significant questions about the management practices of the United Nations." The Greek government is trying to retrieve whatever funds remain unspent from the project.
Now, documents obtained by FOX News indicate that DPADM's Bertucci may have been involved in an infraction that involves Gazzoli. The documents appear to show that Bertucci overrode one of the U.N.'s most important financial checks and balances in order to make at least one payment this year to Gazzoli of more than $30,000.
On the documents, for a project under the bland title, "Implementation of the Peace and Security Agenda of the African Union," Bertucci is listed as "adviser," signifying that he is the U.N. officer who is overseeing Gazzoli's work and authorizing the payment to her.
But at the same time, as Director of DPADM, which issues the payment, Bertucci is also the "certifying" officer, who approved the project for which she is being paid.
Under U.N. financial rules and regulations, two different people are required to give those authorizing and certifying OKs, in order to avoid unsupervised spending and potential conflicts of interest.
A source familiar with U.N. financial practices as they are supposed to be implemented at DPADM told FOX News that Bertucci's double authorization on the African Union document would "go beyond his authority as director."
The total amount of money Gazzoli has earned for all her U.N. services, including money paid for her work at DPADM, is confidential U.N. information. But it could well be a lot. Other documents obtained by FOX News show that on Feb. 25, 2005, Gazzoli earned a lump-sum fee for short-term consultancy with DPADM that totaled more than $118,000.
That 2005 payment to Gazzoli is charged to a variety of different projects within DPADM, and none of the parts of the lump sum total more than $29,999. That number is significant, since under U.N. practice, all payments to consultants of more than $30,000 must be approved by a designated committee of the human resources office of the U.N.'s Department of Management. Any lesser fees in a division like DPADM can be contracted without any special authorization.
"Payments of under $30,000 are rarely questioned," says a senior U.N. official familiar with U.N. financial practices.
No one outside DPADM knows exactly how much money the division has spent on consultants, but the use of consultants at DPADM's parent organization, the Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), has drawn notice by the U.N.'s overseeing Board of Auditors.
According to the Auditors' 2004-2005 report, the department has engaged in a variety of irregularities, including the failure to use official rosters of consultants, and failing to specify "tangible and measurable outputs," or delivery dates in its consultancy contracts. Overall DESA spent $7.49 million on consultants in 2004-2005, the second highest total in the entire U.N.
FOX News has sent emails to DPADM Director Bertucci, asking how he explained the apparent irregularity regarding Gazzoli's payment, and also whether other payments to Gazzoli had followed the same model. FOX News has also emailed Gazzoli to ask for further details of her work at DPADM.
Neither Bertucci nor Gazzoli replied before this article was published.
Last weekend, as FOX News prepared for publication, sources said UNDESA technicians had begun removing an unspecified number of documents from the UNDESA internal Web site.
On Tuesday, a U.N. spokesman said UNDESA denied that any violation of its financial rules had taken place, but added that the U.N. organization was still "looking into it."
Meanwhile, Gazzoli had made some dramatic changes to her personal website, removing all references to the specific times related to her various U.N. contracts.
George Russell is executive editor of FOX News Channel.