The United Nations is cooperating with a U.S. probe into charges that North Korea's government misspent millions of dollars in aid money intended for its impoverished people. But as VOA's correspondent Peter Heinlein reports, U.N. aid officials are disputing some of the U.S. figures.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon Monday said he is committed to investigating U.S. allegations that North Korea misused U.N. development aid money. He said he is directing the head of the U.N. budget committee, known as the ACABQ, to look into the charges.
"I am concerned of course about news reports, and new allegations, about North Korean activities about misusing UNDP funds," said Ban Ki-moon. "I am going to write a letter to the Chairman of the ACABQ [Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions], asking him to consider to continue this investigation, including the possibility of sending auditors to North Korea."
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Zalmay Khalilzad met with U.N. Development Program chief Kemal Dervis last week to lay out the case against North Korea.
The Washington Post newspaper reported that the allegations included evidence that authorities in Pyongyang diverted as much as $3 million in aid money to help finance the purchase of property in France, Britain and Canada. The Post cited a confidential State Department account of witness reports and business records charging that millions more went to a North Korean institution linked to a bank alleged to have handled arms deals.
Ambassador Khalilzad told reporters Monday that Dervis pledged to investigate the charges immediately.
"There were some allegations that were brought to our attention with regard to North Korea and UNDP programs there, and what we did was to go and see the head of the UNDP, Mr. Dervis, and his reaction was exactly the right one," he said. "It was concern, and he said 'we will immediately investigate.'"
UNDP spokesman David Morrison Monday confirmed that the development agency is cooperating with U.S. authorities in the probe. But he told reporters the information available to UNDP does not support allegations that funds were misused.
"Based upon UNDP's own records, the new allegations don't seem to add up," he said.
Morrison says UNDP disagrees with U.S. estimates that the agency transferred $7 million to North Korea between 2001 and 2005. He says the figure was only a few hundred thousand dollars.
He says U.S. officials have not given the development agency any evidence to back up their figures.
"We know exactly what our own financial systems say," said Morrison. "We put all of that information on the table. Allegations are continuing. They're clearly based on something. We've not seen any documents. We have responded to U.S. mission that we'd like to see documents that are available."
Morrison said further meetings between U.S. and UNDP officials are tentatively scheduled for later this week.