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Senior UN Official Accused of Management Abuses


The head of the United Nations office for promoting free elections has been accused of management abuses, including misuse of funds. The latest revelations add to Secretary-General Kofi Annan's troubles as he tries to recover from a series of scandals.

An internal management review has described the U.N. electoral assistance unit as an "unhealthy family." A confidential report faults the unit's chief Carina Perelli for misusing travel funds, as well as sexual and workplace harassment.

Ms. Perelli, a 48-year old Uruguayan political scientist, has won praise for her unit's work in helping organize elections in places such as Iraq, East Timor, Afghanistan and the Palestinian territories. President Bush referred to her work in Iraq twice in his most recent State of the Union address.

The allegations of management abuses first came to light at a staff retreat in 2003. Ms. Perelli's supervisor, U.N. Undersecretry-General for Political Affairs Kieran Prendergast, is said to have ordered the review by a Swiss-based consulting firm in December 2004. The findings were leaked to news agencies this week.

Those who have seen the report say it notes that Ms. Perelli and Undersecretary-General Prendergast had been locked in what is called a "very public dispute" last year over how involved the United Nations should be in Iraq.

Ms. Perelli favored sending a large group of experts to help organize the January 30 elections. Mr. Prendergast, who opposed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, disagreed, citing security concerns.

U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard Wednesday said Ms. Perelli is preparing a written reply to the management abuse allegations, and would make no public statement. He called the charges an "internal matter".

"That report has now leaked. Like I said it's unfortunate, but the Department of Political Affairs is currently reviewing what's in that report, and it will be the head of department's decision to determine whether what's in that report consists of a serious enough violation of rules to be passed on," he said.

The leak of the internal report comes at a time when the United Nations is being hit by criticism on a number of fronts.

Former Dutch prime minister Ruud Lubbers was forced to step down as U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees last month in the face of sexual harassment allegations, U.N. peacekeepers have been charged with sexual exploitation in Africa and elsewhere, and Secretary-General Kofi Annan was criticized this week by a panel investigating the scandal-plagued Iraq oil-for-food program.

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