The scandal-plagued UN made an unexpected about-face yesterday, saying it would reconsider the case against its top watchdog official controversially pardoned by Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
The official, Dileep Nair, had been cleared by the UN chief on favoritism and corruption allegations after what Annan's spokesman insisted was a "thorough" inquiry -- a claim ridiculed by the UN staff union.
The union, in a resolution exclusively reported by reporters two weeks ago, voted overwhelmingly that UN management had "further eroded the trust" of employees by clearing Nair in what one senior union official called a "whitewash."
The spokesman, Fred Eckhard, said that the UN would now listen to staff complaints about the Nair case after a meeting that UN staff were finally granted after months of postponement from UN brass.
He said Catherine Bertini, the UN head of management who headed the inquiry rubbished by staff members, now would consider any evidence the union could produce to bolster their claims against Nair.
Eckhard had previously said the case against Nair, a Singaporean national, was closed for good and would not be re-opened.
"[The union staff at the meeting] asked her if the matter was closed or if they could submit their views and she said she would review whatever they would like to submit," Eckhard told reporters.
Sources on both sides said the pressure was now on the union to produce solid claims supporting a case against Nair in a tense atmosphere that has seen heavy media scrutiny about Annan's ability to lead the UN.
Annan has been battered by revelations about his son Kojo's links to a UN program in Iraq that US congressional investigators now say may have let Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein siphon off billions of dollars.
UN officials have said there is a "campaign" against Annan driven by right-wing "segments" of the US media.
Writing in the Wall Street Journal this week, the US senator heading a congressional inquiry said he had evidence that the official hand-picked by Annan to head the Iraq oil program had got pay-offs from Saddam's regime.
That claim has elicited a show of support for Annan from dozens of nations, but a non-committal response from the US, which pays the lion's share of the UN budget.