Friday, 14 October 2011

Former UN official presses $1 million demand


UNITED NATIONS (AP) — An American demanded $1 million in damages from the United Nations on Wednesday, telling a U.N. tribunal that he was arrested by U.N. police, was humiliated by "wanted posters" posted at his office and was fired after he said his U.N. colleagues in Kosovo might be taking kickbacks.

James Wasserstrom says the actions were retaliation for his speaking up.

"What on Earth went on here, and why?" Judge Goolam Meeran, a professional jurist from India, asked. "There are certain lines of inquiry here that trouble me."

The case is a high-profile test case for the U.N.'s new court system for employee issues. The independent tribunal replaces the secret, delay-plagued system that legal experts in 2006 called "dysfunctional" and critics said heavily favored U.N. management.

Under a whistleblower protection policy signed by then-Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 2005, all U.N. employees are to be offered protection from retaliation.

But Wasserstrom says his job with the U.N. Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo was eliminated in 2007 after he reported on colleagues he suspected were taking kickbacks from local officials in the energy sector.

He says his apartment was searched and his office was taped off for months while the mission investigated him for what it called conflict of interest, after Wasserstrom signed a consulting contract to start after his U.N. job ended.

The U.N. Ethics Office at the time said the treatment of Wasserstrom "seemed to be excessive," but it found no evidence that the actions were retaliatory.

Two Ethics Office employees who handled the Kosovo case, Susan John and Robert Benson, told the tribunal on Wednesday that the actions against Wasserstrom had seemed "disproportionate," but they maintained there was no sign of retaliation.

A decision in the case seemed unlikely Wednesday.

The U.N. has argued in legal documents that the court has no jurisdiction over the case because the ethics office is independent and does not answer to the Secretary-General.

Wasserstrom worked for the U.N. for 25 years. He seeks more than $1 million for lost wages, compensation for defamation and mental distress.

"What happened destroyed his U.N. career," said his attorney, Mary Dorman.

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