A tug-of-war is being waged at the World Intellectual Property Organization to decide if 188 member nations will ever get to read a United Nations report on alleged wrongdoing by Francis Gurry, the agency’s autocratic director general, who has been accused among other things of ordering illegal break-ins of the offices of his own staffers.
So far the answer is no, even though the official report by the U.N.’s Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), into possible illegal behavior by Gurry, has been in the hands of one WIPO dignitary for weeks. Gurry has denied the charges, calling them “without foundation.”
As a result, frustration is building among curious countries, including the United States, which are being stonewalled in their attempts to obtain the full story of what the report says -- a process made worse by dense barricades of U.N. bureaucratic process that also stand in the way.
A State Department official delicately told Fox News on Wednesday that “we continue to reiterate the need for maximum transparency” -- including the handover of the report -- to resolve questions about Gurry’s actions that have caused upheaval for months at low-profile WIPO, which is a gatekeeper to the world’s treasure-trove of patents.
The same State Department official said, “we are not going to speak for other member states” who might be demanding full disclosure, but added, “we are not alone in our belief in the need for transparency,” including access to the report.
No diplomat said it, but behind the invocation of “transparency,” the real issue is whether -- or how much -- that full document matches up with a heavily edited and compressed excerpt handed over in closed briefing sessions to clusters of the countries over the past few weeks, the only version they have been allowed to see.
The two-page redacted version, obtained by Fox News, purportedly clears Gurry of ordering the illegal 2008 break-ins of the offices of his own staffers, who he suspected had written anonymous letters against him. Gurry was seeking WIPO’s top job at the time, which he gained the same year.
It does find him guilty of comparatively petty interference in a procurement bid involving an acquaintance where he made no illicit gain.
The digested version issues a vague recommendation that might lead to no more than a wrist-slap, if anything, by the official who issued the highly edited document in the first place: a Colombian diplomat named Gabriel Duque, who is currently serving as the Chair of WIPO’s General Assembly. Indeed, the wording in the redacted version suggests only that the Chair “consider” taking any such action.
Duque has not responded to a series of questions by Fox News about the redacted report, whether he created it, and whether he had taken any suggestions or comments from Gurry himself in preparing the redacted version. (Under OIOS protocols, Gurry would have been presented with those findings prior to publication.)
Intriguingly enough, the investigating agency, OIOS, itself declined to answer a Fox News question as to whether the wording of the redacted document “adequately and truthfully reflects the conclusions of the full report as OIOS finalized it.”
Ben Swanson, the acting head of the OIOS investigations division, told Fox News that the report is now “a WIPO internal document,” and that “in the circumstances, I feel that it would be inappropriate to comment.”
The wording of the highly-selective redacted version itself, however, raises more questions about the charges than it seemingly intends to answer.
Among other things, while it notes that “there are strong indications that Mr. Gurry had a direct interest in the outcome” of analyzing the purloined DNA, it says “there is no evidence that he was involved in the taking of the DNA samples.”
The initial charges against Gurry, however, which were formally raised a year ago by one of his top deputies, didn’t accuse him of “taking” the DNA. Instead, they said it was likely that Gurry directed other officials to collect the material, which was subsequently handed over to Swiss police to begin criminal investigation.
Nothing about the Swiss investigation, including any information on who actually handed over the DNA samples, and under what circumstances, appears in the redacted report either.
Beyond these issues is a much broader question: of whether the ostensible “owners” of a U.N. agency like WIPO, the member states who make up its main lawmaking authority, can be stymied from looking at a confidential report that has fundamental implications for their own agency.
It is a battle that several U.N. agencies have fought in the past ten years, usually in the course of a major scandal, and in most cases the member states have won at least partial victories, often after long and drawn-out battles.
In this case, the U.S. still says only “we look forward to hearing from Ambassador Duque regarding next steps.”
George Russell is editor-at-large of Fox News and can be found on Twitter: @GeorgeRussell or on Facebook.com/GeorgeRussell