The mystery of the airport body scanners purchased by the United Nations Development Program for Venezuela is no longer just skin deep.
FOX News questioned UNDP’s purchase of $2.3 million worth of airport walk-through body scanners for Hugo Chavez’s radical socialist government in Venezuela, in a story on April 1. Two days later, UNDP replied by posting a number of documents on the Internet, all of which raise new questions about whether the entire deal was a façade for a scam, and whether the scanners were ever shipped at all.
Among other things, the number of scanners varies from document to document, the same purchase order has two different dates on two different documents, and the major document justifying the entire project has a termination date 3 1/2 years before UNDP approved the entire scanner purchase. Further, that project document never mentions airports or scanners at all.
The documents posted by UNDP Thursday night further undermine its claim that the 2007 scanner purchase on behalf of a Venezuelan customs and income tax authority known as SENIAT was the result of an "objective, transparent, efficient" procurement exercise that emerged from a fair and open bid.
Secret UNDP procurement committee documents dated June 15, 2007, and published by FOX News in its April 1 story, show that UNDP authorized a waiver of competitive bidding on the project and awarded the contract to a Venezuelan distributor called Setronix C.A.
In the original story, FOX also reported that L3 Communications, manufacturer of the 19 ProVision airport body scanners described in the UNDP waiver, said that it had only shipped 17 scanners to Venezuela, and those were for the Venezuelan corrections system.
On April 2, UNDP headquarters published an initial Web site posting that attempted to rebut the FOX News story of the previous day. Late on April 3, UNDP edited into the same posting a claim that FOX "suggests that a shipment of scanning equipment never occurred and claims the company in question, L3 Communications, has no record of the transaction." It then offered documents to refute the assertion — which FOX, in fact, had not made.
(The FOX story stated instead: "The highly reputable U.S. defense contracting firm that manufactured the 19 ProVision scanners procured by UNDP, L3 Communications, says that the only shipment of scanning machines it sent to Venezuela under UNDP auspices last year was for the country’s correctional system. A company spokesman said the firm had no information to add about any other Venezuela procurement involving UNDP.")
To rebut its version of the FOX allegations, UNDP produced documents that it said it would have gladly produced earlier, if FOX had only asked for them. At roughly the same time, UNDP’s Venezuela office added further paperwork of its own.
Among the documents posted by UNDP are:
• A 38-page Spanish-language "Project Document" numbered 15545, which is embedded on a Web site page of UNDP’s Venezuela office. The document lays out a $22.8 million project intended as "Support for the Modernization of the Customs System."
According to the page that contains document 15545, the project began in February 2002 and was expected to be completed in December 2007.
The first page of the attached document itself, however, says that the project was expected to start in January 2002 — and expected to be completed by Dec. 31, 2003.
That is roughly 3 1/2 years before the scanner purchase was approved in a secret waiver of competitive bidding by UNDP headquarters.
Moreover, document 15545 makes no mention of airport body-scanning equipment, or any kind of scanning machines whatsoever.
The document states that the focus of the project is the "modernization of the management [emphasis added] of customs operations."
Document 15545 discusses the seamless flow of electronic customs documentation and secure electronic information and communications systems, rather than any inspection apparatus.
The only hardware mentioned in the document are "informatic equipment," "computers," "telecommunications equipment" and, when the system is taken from a pilot project to a national level, the document additionally mentions "vehicles," "servers" and "photocopiers."
• A second document, linked on the Web site of UNDP’s headquarters in New York, purports to be an L3 "certificate of origin" attesting to the U.S. manufacture of the purchased airport scanners. The document attests that 17 — not 19 — scanners produced by the U.S. manufacturer L3 Communications Safeview Inc. were, in fact, of U.S. origin and conformed to "Setronix purchase order number 2031," issued on Aug. 8, 2007.
The document was signed and sealed in Boise, Idaho, by a U.S. notary public on Oct. 30, 2007. The document does not declare what specific type of scanners was certified.
Additionally, the document contains some very poor English phrasing to be published under the letterhead of a domestic subsidiary of a U.S.-based global defense company with annual sales of $14 billion.
The document says, for example, "Herewith we declarate [sic] that the merchandises [sic] indicated on this format [sic] are in accordance with the Setronix C.A. P/O dated August 08, 2007 complying with the established origin norms [sic] and certifies [sic] that merchandise is manufactured in the United States of America."
It is signed, indecipherably, with the initial and last name of a person described as "Dir. Sales & Mktg Operations." There is no typed version of the signature.
• A third document, also linked at UNDP headquarters, is described as a Venezuelan "act of entry" document, dated Dec. 19, 2007.
This document attests that a shipment of 16 units — not the 17 listed in the "certificate of origin" — of "non-intrusive inspection equipment for human beings" arrived at a Venezuelan airport for consignment to Setronix C.A, specifically as part of Project 15545. The serial numbers of the 16 units mentioned match 16 serial numbers on the "certificate of origin."
Yet neither 16 nor 17 units match the 19 units mentioned in the UNDP waiver of competition.
Even more puzzling, the act of entry document cites the same UNDP purchase order number (2031) mentioned in the "certificate of origin" — but declares that the purchase order was dated Aug. 13, 2007, rather than Aug. 8.
One purchase order: two different dates.
None of the strange and contradictory evidence produced by UNDP changes any of the questions asked by FOX News about the scanner deal, including the question of whether it took place at all.
Nor does it answer other questions raised in the original article, including whether the tax and customs branch of Venezuela’s government, which was UNDP’s partner, is even authorized under Venezuelan law to inspect airport passengers (work performed, according to the Chavez government-funded Venezuela Information Service, by a branch of the Interior and Justice Ministry).
Nor does it account for whether UNDP’s own approved work program for Venezuela covered such an airport scanner deal.
It does, however, add further emphasis to one of the final questions asked in the April 1 FOX story: "What role is an agency devoted to alleviating international poverty playing as a general contractor for the authoritarian rulers of an oil-rich nation, who are also avowed supporters of terrorism in the Western Hemisphere?”