Exclusive Allegations of bizarre and potentially illegal conduct within the World Intellectual Property Organisation have raised serious questions, after The Register obtained access to an internal report indicating reasonable grounds to suspect serious misconduct within the UN agency.
The report, published exclusively by The Register today, outlines serious allegations against WIPO chief Francis Gurry. The organisation's staff council has also demanded a prompt and independent investigation.
Gurry was re-elected director-general of WIPO last month despite questions over the alleged illegal DNA testing of staff, the shipping of computer equipment deemed useful for military purposes to Iran and North Korea and the award of a large IT contract to a company run by an acquaintance of the WIPO chief.
The internal Report of Misconduct (see PDF here), which includes 54 pages of exhibits, begins:
“I write to report what I believe is serious misconduct by WIPO Director General Francis Gurry. Specifically, I draw your attention to (1) the taking of DNA from senior WIPO staff members without their knowledge or consent, in violation of international human rights, as well as efforts to suppress evidence and investigation of the incident; and (2) evidence of the corruption of a recent procurement that was redirected and awarded to an Australian company led by an acquaintance of Mr Gurry, even though that company had not been selected in the competitive process.”
It is alleged that Gurry ordered the illegal collection of staff DNA in order to find out who sent anonymous letters of complaint to him and other directors.
The US State Department and South Korean officials have both asked for an independent investigation into the allegations, but instead WIPO appointed its own committee to decide if further action was required. This committee was allegedly implicated in the original, secret DNA testing of senior staff.
In May this year WIPO's "Independent Advisory and Oversight Committee" (IAOC) considered whether there was a conflict of interest in handing the investigation to the organisation's own Internal Audit and Oversight Division (IAOD).
In early May, WIPO's legal counsel advised:
“The director of the IAOD deemed himself to have a conflict of interest, due to the fact that the Report refers to him (together with a number of other WIPO officials) in the DNA allegations. For this reason he recused himself from considering the report.”
But by the end of May, the IAOD, and its director Thierry Rajaobelina, apparently decided it was quite capable of carrying out a preliminary investigation without any fear of a conflict of interest.
WIPO's staff council reacted angrily. It said in an internal email sent 15 May:
“The Staff Council strongly supports the call for an external, independent and professional investigation into the taking of staff DNA and the suppression of the facts.
"The Council's primary concern is the welfare of WIPO staff. The theft of DNA from staff is a violation of their human rights. The evidence available, in the form of a report from the Hôpitaux Universitaires de Genève, shows conclusively that DNA was taken from staff without their knowledge or consent.
"Previous attempts to address this situation with the WIPO Administration have been unsuccessful, and to this day no explanation has been provided to staff as to why their DNA was taken secretly and without lifting of immunity.”
In a further email sent 11 June, the WIPO staff council said:
“The Staff council cannot comprehend how any new internal process investigating an issue of such gravity can possibly be fair and free of conflict.”
The email ends:
“The Staff Council further respectfully calls on the Secretary General of the United Nations in defense of the reputational interest of the UN and its core values and ethics, to intervene at this juncture to ensure that the investigation proceeds fairly and promptly.”
The DNA testing was begun in 2008 after Gurry received several anonymous, typed letters, seen by the Register. The letters, signed by the "Watchdog for International Civil Servants" and "Watchdog for International Civil Service" accused Gurry of financial impropriety and sexual harassment. Gurry took the letters to Swiss police, who found fingerprints and DNA from a man and a woman on the notes.
After the complaint was made, WIPO security staff secretly took cigarettes, lipstick, dental floss and sweet packets from staff offices in order to obtain DNA samples. These items were handed to Swiss police which gave them to the forensics department of the Hôpitaux Universitaires de Genève (HUG) for DNA analysis.
The complaint questions the legal basis of this testing because the staff, who were later fingerprinted and DNA tested by Swiss police, were never asked for their DNA and at the time were immune from prosecution because they were diplomats. Their immunity was not lifted until two months after the items were taken.
Eventually none of the staff were found to have DNA matching that found on the envelopes.
Gurry is also accused of improperly influencing the award of a WIPO contract to consultancy Argo Pacific, run by Dr Paul Twomey, a long-time acquaintance of Mr Gurry and former CEO of ICANN.
Despite claims that nothing links them except being born in Australia, a letter from Twomey to Gurry dating back to 2004 is available online [PDF] – and show Twomey inserting a handwritten "Francis" in front of "Mr Gurry" in the salutation.
The IT contract bid
Gurry has said his next six-year term will focus on adapting WIPO's mission to better provide for the digital age. WIPO's procurement process for the new IT contract began in summer of 2013. A bid package and terms of reference were written and sent out.
The report alleges that Gurry had subsequently complained that the bid package had not been sent to Argo Pacific, so it was recalled. An amended package was sent out in or around September 2013 to various companies including Argo Pacific.
The procurement committee followed WIPO rules by creating a formula for judging the various bids, allocating points to different aspects such as cost and technical competence.
The report alleges that Argo Pacific's bid was 40 to 50 per cent higher than the next highest bid. When Gurry heard this, he allegedly told the committee to reduce the weighting or importance of price. It is alleged in the report that when this proved impossible under WIPO rules, he simply cancelled the procurement process and awarded the contract directly to Argo Pacific – a procedure only allowed in an emergency situation.
The report does not suggest that Argo or those running it acted improperly.
Contacted for comment on the matter this week, a WIPO spokeswoman told The Register:
"The Director General has already stated publicly that the allegations are without foundation and that he has no further comment."
An insider at WIPO told the Register:
“Gurry is known as a smart guy and he's had some success in reforming the organisation. But his competence as a leader and manager, his lack of impulse control and the lack of proper governance structure within WIPO mean he must now be suspended while the investigation is carried out.” ®