By Peter Yeo, Executive Director of the Better World Campaign
Key House Republicans are keeping up their assault on the United Nations this week by once again bringing up a three year old fake scandal involving alleged UN payments to the North Korean regime.
Here’s the story: In 2007, the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, which is not friendly territory for the UN, alleged that hundreds of millions of dollars of funds from the UN Development Program may have been siphoned off by Kim Jong Il. The Wall Street Journal called this “Cash for Kim.” UNDP promptly suspended its operations in North Korea, and the U.S. Congress launched an investigation into the matter.
A fake scandal was born. But when UNDP was cleared of the charge, few paid attention. For UN critics, it was too easy to score political points against the UN by pushing the catchy “Cash for Kim” line instead of acknowledging that the charges were false.
A bipartisan Senate investigation – led by Senator Carl Levin and former Senator Norm Coleman, a known UN critic – conducted a detailed inquiry into the charges against UNDP’s operation in North Korea.
UNDP funds in North Korea were fully accounted for. UNDP money was not used to line the pockets of Kim Jong-Il or other North Korean government officials. North Korean officials had moved their own national funds out of the country in UNDP’s name – without any knowledge or approval of UNDP officials.
How were the UNDP funds used? As promised – to promote agricultural development in the famine-stricken country.
I have been to North Korea and seen UN development programs in action. UN agencies work in an extremely challenging environment, and like the few embassies in Pyongyang, they must operate under staffing and financial rules that are unique to North Korea and other dictatorships. But they are helping farmers, saving lives, and making sure that tax payer dollars are well spent.
The charges of impropriety were systematically exaggerated by people and publications seeking to discredit the United Nations. The source for the original Wall Street Journal editorial was a letter to UNDP from Mark Wallace, who at the time served as the US Ambassador to the UN for Management and Reform and is testifying today. When pressed by Senator Levin in a 2008 hearing on the alleged scandal, Wallace refused to acknowledge that his original claims were wildly exaggerated. Let’s hope today he will tell a more complete picture today.