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WIPO whistleblowers beg UN for protection as probe into possible corruption starts

Chats in Geneva over DNA claims

UN investigators have begun interviewing witnesses as part of their examination of possible corruption and mismanagement at the UN's domain name and patent body, WIPO, or the World Intellectual Property Organisation.

Officials from OIOS (the Office of Internal Oversight Services) travelled to Geneva last week to talk to former and current WIPO staff, sources told The Register. This move led WIPO's Staff Council to write to the ambassadors charged with oversight of the organisation about their fears that witnesses could face retaliation from WIPO management.

Investigators are looking at allegations that WIPO's director general, Francis Gurry, authorised security staff to enter senior staff offices and take personal items away for DNA testing.

This was in order to find the authors of anonymous letters written to the organisation complaining about Gurry. The senior staff were later informed by Swiss police that their DNA did not match that found on the letters.

Gurry is also accused of interfering with a computer procurement bid at WIPO in favour of one of his acquaintances, as reported in the Reg last year.

The Staff Council's letter asked the chairs of the WIPO General Assembly what the terms of investigation are and whether its findings will be made public.

The letter said: “Is this investigation independent and external? Will WIPO staff be required to participate in this investigation if called to do so?”

At least two previous investigations have been stopped and their findings covered up.

The letter asks: “What protection will be offered to whistleblowers and witnesses? The Staff Council remains extremely concerned about any form of retaliation in this respect.”

Finally, the letter asks: “Will the report of the OIOS investigation be shared with WIPO staff and made public? It is imperative that WIPO staff be provided with answers as to why staff had their personal effects stolen and DNA extracted therefrom, without their knowledge or consent and without the lifting of their functional immunity.”

Separately, Miranda Brown, a former special adviser to Francis Gurry, and Moncef Katab, the sacked head of the Staff Council, have written to the Finnish Ambassador and chair of WIPO general assembly Paivi Kairamo asking for their jobs back.

Brown asked WIPO's internal oversight division to investigate the allegations of DNA theft back in 2012. When it declined to do so she took her concerns to the ambassadors who oversee WIPO. She claims she was constructively dismissed for making this complaint.

Brown then began work for the UN Commission on Human Rights. In October 2014 her fixed-term contract was not renewed “within a few days of being called to testify in the initial external investigation into the allegations of wrongdoing by Mr Gurry".

Moncef Katab was head of the Staff Council and was sacked just before he was due to give a speech to the member states which was expected to be critical of Gurry.

Katab previously blew the whistle on Gurry's export of computer equipment to North Korea and Iran, in breach of Security Council sanctions. Read the full Staff Council letter here (PDF, 500kB). ®

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