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World Intellectual Property Office settles dispute with CIO it previously ousted for 'criminal misconduct'

Complaints of 'retaliation and irregular termination' over whistleblowing backed by committee, admits governing body

Exclusive The World Intellectual Property Office (WIPO) has settled a dispute with former CIO Wei Lei whose employment was terminated under "irregular" circumstances after he blew the whistle on its former director general's alleged dodgy procurement.

Lei was dismissed by the governing patent body in February 2019 following an internal investigation that claimed it found evidence of criminal misconduct – a ruling that the CIO disputed and refused to take lying down, pushing for a probe by WIPO's Independent Advisory and Oversight Committee.

Following that process, in July 2020 the patent organisation's Internal Oversight Division (IOD) reported that Lei's 2014 complaint of then-director general Gurry's retaliation against him was substantiated.

The allegation Lei made was that Gurry had steered a technology contract in the direction of an acquaintance, and that Gurry was then given access to the subsequent internal investigation of Lei's accusation and the staff that had provided evidence.

The Reg revealed back in 2015 that an investigation by the United Nations Office of Internal Oversight into the agency had found Gurry guilty of fiddling with the IT procurement process but no "substantive action was taken".

The case brought by Lei, who was CIO between 2009 and 2019, has now been settled by WIPO.

In a letter to all staff dated 2 July, seen by The Register, director general Daren Tang, who replaced Gurry last year, said:

"The WIPO Administration is pleased to have been able to work with Mr Wei Lei to resolve his separate complaints against the previous administration of retaliation and irregular termination of his employment, and understands that Mr Lei and his family have experienced material harm and hardship."

He added: "These issues have been addressed to his satisfaction, as part of an amicable settlement, so that both parties can turn the page."

Tang said WIPO "takes note" of WIPO's Program and Budget Committee substantiating Lei's claims of retaliation by previous management.

"The WIPO Administration further takes note that the WIPO General Assembly was informed that this case would be handled in accordance with WIPO's protection against retaliation policy, requiring a decision thereunder to be made on the aforementioned investigation."

As such, "Mr Lei's grievances have now been amicably resolved before the aforementioned process could be concluded," added Tang's letter.

The missive ended by thanking Lei for his service to WIPO, "which he undertook with diligence and integrity. The Administration wishes him well in his retirement."

The previous alleged criminal misconduct against Lei centred on accusations that he used a colleague's bank card to withdraw CHF300 (c £235, $325) from a UBS ATM. The circumstances painted by the report undertaken by the IOD, along with an external investigator, were unusual to say the least.

In a statement, WIPO told us: "Matters concerning current and former staff members are confidential and as such WIPO does not comment publicly on individual staff cases."

The Reg also asked the organisation how it tightened up policies to protect whistleblowers that step forward in future.

"The current protection against retaliation policy, established in 2017 in consultation with WIPO's Members States, is at the forefront of recognized best practices in the field. As with any policy, we strive to ensure that it remains fit-for-purpose and fully effective, and are therefore committed to carrying out a review of this policy and its implementation in practice.

As for Lei, he told us he is looking for "non-gainful opportunities" to use his "skills and spare time".

He added: "I hope the new Administration's commitment to review its policy and practices for whistleblower protection will result in long-lasting culture changes that espouse integrity and respect for human values." ®


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