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Countries Warn UN Weather Agency Of Damage Over Fraud Case

by Staff Writers
Geneva (SPX) May 08, 2007
Fifteen countries want reforms at the UN's weather agency following a fraud scandal which has seriously damaged the organisation, a senior Swiss official said Monday. The 15, including Switzerland, will present a resolution at the World Meteorological Organisation's (WMO) congress over the coming two weeks to increase transparency and give the 188 member states greater oversight over its management, said secretary of state Michael Ambuehl.

The move follows a long-running investigation into alleged embezzlement of reportedly more than four million Swiss francs by a former employee, which was revealed in 2003. The amount is equivalent to about six percent of the agency's budget.

The case was investigated by an internal audit and is the subject of a probe by the Swiss judiciary in Geneva. The auditor involved, Maria Veiga, says she was subsequently sacked by the agency.

She has alleged in Swiss newspapers that the embezzled funds were partly linked to campaigns for elections of the agency's secretary general.

On Sunday it emerged that the regional prosecutor in Geneva, Daniel Zappelli, had opened another investigation into possible use of the embezzled funds to pay for travel by developing nation representatives and influence voting.

Ambuehl told the opening of the WMO's congress here: "The embezzlement case uncovered a few weeks after the previous congress has caused serious damage."

"To tackle natural catastrophes linked to global warming, we need a strong WMO that is entirely focused on its basic mission," he added.

Switzerland firmly condemned any wrongdoing in international agencies, Ambuehl said, acknowledging that internal financial controls have since been reinforced.

However he insisted that improvements in the organisation's governance had to continue.

Ambuehl said member states were never able to take part into attempts to deal with the 2003 embezzlement case "or other important matters of governance."

The judicial probe has managed to recover some of the money, he added.

A US official at the congress said the WMO's reputation had been tarnished but underlined that measures had been taken since then.

The WMO's Secretary General, Michel Jarraud, denies any wrongdoing or connection with the affair and said that the agency has fully cooperated with the probe.

"Any allusion suggesting that the current secretary general of the WMO may have benefitted from influence peddling is defamatory," Richard Van Maele underlined.

Jarraud told the congress Monday: "All the internal audit reports, all the information was sent swiftly."

"We will continue to give the Swiss judiciary all the necessary information," he added.

Jarraud was elected in 2003 to succeed Nigerian Godwin Obasi at the head of the organisation. Obasi, from Nigeria, had held the post for 20 years.

He is due to stand for re-election on May 16.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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