U.N. reinstates lone official fired in oil-for-food scandal - 15 November, 2005 - News

The United Nations on Tuesday reinstated the lone U.N. official who was fired over the Iraq oil-for-food scandal, after an internal appeals body ruled that he had done nothing wrong.

Joseph Stephanides, fired May 31, received a letter Tuesday morning that maintained he violated staff rules by showing preference to one bidder for an oil-for-food contract, but essentially acknowledged that the punishment was too harsh for the alleged infraction.

The letter, singed by Undersecretary-General for Management Chris Burnham, said "the sanction that was imposed on you has been reconsidered in light of all the circumstances in the case and the principle of proportionality."

U.N. deputy spokeswoman Marie Okabe confirmed that Stephanides had been reinstated and said that Burnham signed the letter on behalf of U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who is presently at a U.N. conference in Tunisia.

The Joint Disciplinary Committee, an internal U.N. appeals board, had ruled last month that Stephanides should be reinstated, issued a written apology and paid about US$200,000 (Ђ171,425) _ about two years' back pay _ for the emotional suffering and damage to his reputation caused by Annan's handling of his case.

Stephanides' lawyer, George Irving, said he was not satisfied with Annan's move and would take the case to the next step up the internal U.N. appeals ladder, the Administrative Tribunal. Unlike the disciplinary committee, its decisions are binding.

The ruling, disclosed to The Associated Press last week, concluded that Stephanides was fired mostly because of the public scrutiny from an investigation that found the $64 billion (Ђ55 billion) oil-for-food program was poorly managed and corrupt.

The decision to reinstate Stephanides, which required Annan's approval, could be embarrassing to the secretary-general and the U.N. as they try to move on from the oil-for-food scandal and other problems _ including sex abuse by peacekeepers and claims of sexual harassment by the former U.N. refugee chief _ that have made this year one of the worst chapters in the world body's 60-year history.

Annan was not required to heed the decision. Stephanides was fired for divulging bidding information related to an oil-for-food contract to Britain. He argued he was acting under the instructions of a U.N. Security Council sanctions committee.

In February, a U.N.-backed probe of the program led by former Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, accused him of tainting the bidding process over a contract to inspect goods going into Iraq.

On Stephanides' request, Volcker reopened his investigation into Stephanides over the summer. But Volcker's team reaffirmed its findings in a final report in late October, saying that he had shown a clear preference for one bidder over another, a technical violation.


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