James Wasserstrom says he was fired from his U.N. job in Kosovo, detained briefly at the border, had his apartment in Pristina searched and was humiliated by “wanted posters” posted at the U.N. mission after he reported suspicions of corruption.
On Wednesday, Wasserstrom will ask for $1 million in damages in a high-profile test case of the U.N.’s new court system for employee issues. It 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, a U.S. citizen, 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 he was briefly arrested by U.N. police and his office was searched and 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.
While the U.N. Ethics Office said the treatment of Wasserstrom “seemed to be excessive,” it said it found no evidence that the actions against him were retaliatory. [Of course not!]
…Wasserstrom’s attorney, Mary Dorman, said it took several years to obtain many of the documents she needed.
“The S.G. fought it all the way,” she added, referring to current Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
Wasserstrom’s case is the most high-profile test of the new U.N. Dispute Tribunal…its hearings are open and its decisions are binding on U.N. senior officials, including the Secretary-General.
Wasserstrom worked for the U.N. for 25 years. While the U.N.’s Office of Internal Oversight Services was investigating his suspicions about his colleagues, the U.N. mission in Kosovo announced what it called a long-planned elimination of his position, Dorman said.
…Wasserstrom seeks more than $1 million for lost wages, compensation for defamation and mental distress. “What happened destroyed his U.N. career,” Dorman said.
So a man works for the UN for 25 years, apparently without incident. Until he gets assigned to Kosovo. And he meets his career’s end…in Kosovo. Gee, what is it about Kosovo? First, this means that a lifelong UN worker/believer has witnessed something in Kosovo that he hasn’t in the rest of the corrupt UN’s assignments for him. Second, it means that — as we know — everyone else is playing ball in Kosovo. And if you don’t, you stick out. Third, the nature and commitment of the retaliation seems to have surprised — and scared — the man. (And, as we’ll see below, shocked a judge in its unprecedented fierceness.) What is it about Kosovo? It’s of course also interesting that the first high-profile test case of the UN’s new internal tribunal has to do with Kosovo. And, again, what is it about Kosovo that has even the Secretary-General’s office not cooperating?
A United Nations whistleblower who won his case alleging corruption in the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Kosovo but received only 2 percent of the $2.2 million he sought in damages and costs asked the U.S. government Monday to withhold 15 percent of its payments to the global organization.
James Wasserstrom, an American citizen, alleged corruption involving senior officials in the U.N. peacekeeping operation in Kosovo in 2007 and was awarded $65,000 by the U.N.’s Dispute Tribunal last month. He is now a senior anti-corruption adviser at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.
Wasserstrom told a news conference Monday that he was sending a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and key Senate and House lawmakers asking that they implement the 2012 Consolidated Appropriations Act requiring a 15 percent withholding of U.S. funding if an organization does not take steps to implement “best practices” to prevent retaliation against whistleblowers.
…In the letter to Kerry, Wasserstrom said he was the lead anti-corruption officer at the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Kosovo in 2007 when he received reports of misconduct and corruption involving three top U.N. officials as well as officials in the Kosovo government.
“The corruption allegations involved a 10 percent kickback scheme to a Kosovo minister, to be shared with a senior (U.N. peacekeeping) official, for awarding a contract to a favored bidder,” he said.
“The amount of the payoff was $500 million.” Wasserstrom said he collaborated on an investigation with the U.N.’s Office for Internal Oversight Services or OIOS, the agency assigned to combat internal corruption.
When senior U.N. colleagues found out about his whistleblowing, he said, “they took drastic retaliatory action” — closing his office, abolishing his post, searching his home without a warrant, seizing his property and putting up “Wanted” style posters at the gates of all U.N. buildings to restrict his entry.
He said false charges were also made against him, leading to a Kosovo criminal investigation which ended quickly with no charges and a U.N. administrative investigation which cleared him of wrongdoing.
Wasserstrom told Kerry the U.N. peacekeeping mission also leaked news of the investigations to the local and international media “defaming me and doing serious damage to my professional and personal reputation.”
In June 2007, Wasserstrom said he sought whistleblower protection from the U.N. Ethics Office, which commissioned a full investigation by OIOS. The agency called the actions against him “extreme” and “disproportionate” but found no evidence of retaliation.
As a result, he said, his whistleblower protection ended in April 2008, and seven months later he was terminated, ending a 28-year U.N. career two years before retirement.
Wasserstrom then went to the U.N.’s Dispute Tribunal saying the Ethics Office and OIOS failed in their responsibilities.
In June 2012, Judge Goolam Meeran upheld his complaint, ruling that he was subjected to “wholly unacceptable treatment” and “appalling” acts in violation of the rule of law and human rights. The judge ordered a hearing on damages.
Wasserstrom asked for $2.2 million for losses in wages, benefits and pension as well as mental distress, defamation, damage to his professional reputation and violations of his rights.
In a March 15 decision, Meeran said “the tribunal finds it difficult to envisage a worse case of insensitive, highhanded and arbitrary treatment in breach of the fundamental principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”
He also said that “as an institution charge[d] with the responsibility of uncovering acts of retaliation the effectiveness of the Ethics Office leaves much to be desired.”
Wasserstrom was awarded $65,000.
“This is not justice,” Wasserstrom told reporters Monday. “It is a travesty, and what a strong message it sends to whistleblowers: Even if you win, you lose. You will be worse off than if you had not come forward at all. And for retaliators, don’t worry. There are no consequences for you.”
…Wasserstrom said the U.S. should encourage the U.N… “to take steps to implement best practices in whistleblower protection before that time.”
…Asked what the chances were that Congress will agree to withhold the U.N. funds, Wasserstrom said, “I’m optimistic because I think the evidence is indisputable.”
Not all of us are so optimistic. After all, complaining to the U.S. about Kosovo Corruption is a bit like complaining to a mafia enforcer about the Godfather.
And let’s not even get into the irony of appealing to Kerry about something concerning Kosovo. Kerry is the establishment, and it was at his 2004 Democratic Convention that the KLA’s Hashim “The Snake” Thaci was an invited guest. Not to mention Kerry’s campaign being financed by the KLA to begin with.
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