Washington: Who licked the postage stamps?
The question was absurd, and at the same time deadly serious. n intellectual property guru Francis Gurry was on the warpath and no stone was to be left unturned in unmasking the authors of the ugly, anonymous letters being sent to him – with copies landing on dozen of desks up and down Geneva’s diplomatic row.
Gurry called the Swiss police. In a mysterious overnight raid, innocuous objects were lifted from the desks of three of Gurry’s colleagues without their consent – a lipstick and lollies, a stapler and sticky tape, cigarettes. Stripped of diplomatic immunity, 10 staffers were ordered to present themselves for police interviews – but instead of being questioned they were fingerprinted, cheek-swabbed and sent on their way.
Forensic experts at the prestigious Hopitaux Universitaires de Geneva were engaged to run tests – did DNA recovered from the purloined desk items and staff swabs match traces of DNA extracted from stamps on the letters? Did fingerprints lifted from the envelopes implicate any of Gurry’s colleagues?
It was 2007 and much was at stake. Kamil Idris, a Sudanese diplomat, had just been drummed out as director-general of the World Intellectual Property Organisation, a United Nations agency little known beyond the arcane world of patents and trademarks. Amidst a long-running brouhaha over alleged corruption, Idris finally was nailed, but only for misstating his age on joining the UN 20 years earlier – a charge that originated in another round of anonymous letters.
Kamil Idris, a Sudanese diplomat, was the former director-general of the World Intellectual Property Organisation.
Idris, an aspiring president of his African homeland, was forced to resign. The n Gurry, then one of four deputies to the Sudanese, wanted the top job at WIPO.
In Canberra, the newly elected Rudd government pitched in. Within weeks of winning office, Labor’s foreign affairs minister Stephen Smith enthusiastically endorsed Gurry as a candidate in a diplomatic election that might install this Melbourne native as the most senior n in the UN firmament. But unfounded allegations of improper business dealings by Gurry and his wife, aired in the nastygrams then fluttering in the Swiss air, caused tremors in the Gurry campaign team, then holed up at ‘s embassy in Geneva.
The UN’s head office towers over the shore of Manhattan’s East River. But Geneva is home away from home, with the offices of dozens of UN agencies and their staff armies anchoring a dense cosmopolitan constellation of other international bodies, NGOs and diplomatic missions, all elegantly housed on avenues abutting Lake Geneva.
WIPO is something of a jewel in the United Nations crown.
Sure, it’s beset by the poisonous politics that is a hallmark of the UN’s byzantine bureaucracies. But here’s the difference – Gurry’s fellow agency chiefs are obliged to go, begging bowl in hand, pleading for funds from the governments of the world; but Gurry simply throws open the doors of his curved glass headquarters, on Geneva’s Chemin des Colombettes, and millions of dollars pour in every day.
His billion-dollar budget derives almost entirely from fees charged to the inventors of the world, for thousands of international patent and trademark applications that are processed by WIPO’s staff of 1250.
The World Intellectual Property Organisation offices in Geneva.
The hapless Idris, who sometimes arrived at work with melons to share with staff, might have stumbled. The Cambridge-educated Gurry survives, though these days he is uncomfortably squeezed between Washington and Canberra, in a rare trans-Pacific power play over his headstrong ways. At the same time, Gurry bats away persistent charges by two WIPO whistleblowers, both fellow ns, who seem to have been hung out to dry by the n government.
Canberra chooses to stay above the fray, arguing that whistleblowers should air complaints through the faulty internal mechanism of UN agencies, like WIPO. But Beatrice Edwards, who heads an international whistleblower protection program at the Washington-based Government Accountability Project, singles WIPO out among UN agencies as one of the worst offenders in protecting whistleblowers: “Gurry gets away with being the defendant and the judge,” she tells Fairfax Media.
Variously described as gifted and brilliant, Gurry also is accused of being imperious and autocratic, even despicable. At a public hearing in Washington last year a member of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee lambasted the lanky leader and his agency as “the FIFA of the UN” – a reference to a huge corruption scandal then engulfing global football’s governing body.
None of that seems to trouble Gurry, 65. A former Melbourne lawyer who has been at WIPO since the mid-1980s, he gets a kick from retelling the complaint of one of his American critics that, yes, he is a competent administrator, but he’s also “exasperatingly high-handed and independent”.
Gurry casts WIPO’s performance under his stewardship as “exemplary”.
He has cut the staff from 1350 to 1250; doubled the volume of work; and has kept a rein on the fees charged by his agency. Further, WIPO’s new administration building and conference hall were built on time and on budget and the agency now was in surplus, to the tune of 30 million Swiss francs ($39 million) last year, he told Fairfax Media in an exclusive interview – the first in which he has addressed a decade of complaints and allegations that cast a pall over his tenure.
Others have a dramatically different take on WIPO’s performance.
The most recent annual report by WIPO’s ombudsman depicts an agency in crisis, citing high levels of stress, burnout, sickness, absenteeism and presenteeism [people working when they are sick]; gossip, rumours and sabotage; and “close to half” of all staff sickness is described as “mental illness”.
Analysing the six months to April 2016, ombudsman Mame Diagne describes WIPO as “crippled by interpersonal conflicts and differences which lead to pernicious gossip”.
She portrays an agency seized by gross dysfunction – general paranoia and mistrust; feelings of discrimination; an environment of suspicion and blaming; and a lack of open communication. Diagne says WIPO workers are afraid they’ll make mistakes and are afraid to speak up. There’s a perception of authority abused, she writes.
Fairfax Media has a copy of Diagne’s ombudsman’s report. But when Gurry’s attention was drawn to quotes from the report in a statement by UN union leaders to the United Nations General Assembly, the WIPO chief denied its existence, declaring: “I don’t know of such a document. I don’t think she’s lying – the lie is them claiming she said these things.” The start of serial controversies
The DNA row festered at WIPO, becoming a witch-hunt that overshadowed the 2008 election for a new director-general. Gurry was one in a field of candidates vying for the votes of 83 governments that comprised WIPO’s global co-ordination committee. In a final round of voting, he fended off his last challenger, a Brazilian, by the narrowest of margins: 42-41.
Irony abounded. Despite his denials, colleagues saw Gurry as a key player in Idris’ undoing. When Idris, while still in office, balked at lifting staff immunity to allow the DNA investigation to proceed, Gurry was furious, they said, because he was convinced several of his colleagues were behind the letters, written in the name of the previously unknown Watchdog for International Civil Servants.
The DNA tests absolved all the staff of any role in the nastygrams, but that was merely the start of serial controversies that have dogged Gurry.
The staff was unaware of the desk raids until months after the fact. But in pursuing her demands for an explanation of how staff had become suspects, senior Italian WIPO staffer Carlotta Graffigna won access to her Swiss police file – in which she found the forensic DNA report and its revelation that her desk had been swept without her consent.
Later, a document was leaked internally – Gurry seemingly had targeted for termination or redeployment the three suspects whose personal effects had been snatched, though in Graffigna’s case she was ordered, at four weeks’ notice, to relocate to WIPO’s Singapore office which amounted to her being sacked, because family reasons, of which she claimed Gurry was aware, prevented her moving half way around the world.
In a formal complaint and other documents, another of WIPO’s deputy directors general, politically well-connected US attorney James Pooley, charged that Gurry had ordered WIPO’s security staff to lift the personal items for DNA testing – and indeed, the DNA of one of WIPO’s security staff was detected in the tests.
James Pooley, a former deputy director-general at WIPO.
Pooley charged that Gurry was the only one who had a personal interest in unmasking the Watchdog for International Civil Servants; that he had manipulated WIPO’s security team to do his bidding; that shunting Graffigna to Singapore was an extraordinary effort to intimidate and silence a witness who would expose his misconduct; and that Gurry had gamed the fine letter of WIPO rules and regulations to block investigation of a series of complaints by staff – by intimidating internal investigators; threatening journalists; retaliating against internal critics; and blocking staff testimony to outside investigations, such as the august committees of the US Congress.
Finally a remarkable deal was struck between Graffigna and WIPO – she would remain in Geneva and thereafter would not be transferred for any reason, to any post, without her written consent.
Also, she was paid a lump sum of 100,000 Swiss Francs, apparently because WIPO’s in-house legal advice was that Gurry’s bid to shift her to Singapore was unfair and was retaliation for her pursuit of the DNA case – and she had a good chance of winning her cases, the lawyer had concluded.
In return, Graffigna’s several complaints to UN tribunals and the Swiss police were abandoned and she and WIPO were mutually gagged from any comment on this very strange case. ‘He expects absolute loyalty’
So began the tumultuous reign of Francis Gurry at WIPO. Maybe there could have been entente between the director-general and his staff of 190 nationalities. But then separate new complaints were filed by the other two ns at WIPO – Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade veteran Miranda Brown and IT specialist Wei Lei.
Gurry recruited them both. In 2011 Brown took leave without pay from DFAT at the end of a stint as deputy at the n embassy in Geneva – where she had first met Gurry while working on his WIPO election campaign. In 2009 Lei joined from the Asia Development Bank, for which be had been based in Manila as the bank’s director of technology.
Gurry embraced both, appointing Brown as his personal strategic adviser and Lei as WIPO’s chief information officer.
Brown, a marine biologist who studied humpback whales and is an expert in international law, had assumed early reports of unrest in WIPO were the result of Gurry cleaning house after alleged corruption under his predecessor.
But observing more closely from her new 12th-floor office at WIPO headquarters, Brown concluded Gurry was the problem. “His leadership is characterised by secrecy and extraordinary vindictiveness towards whistleblowers ??? he sees [WIPO] and its resources as his personal fiefdom ??? he expects absolute loyalty to him ??? he denigrates staff ??? and consistently undermines internal accountability mechanisms,” she later explained to a US congressional committee.
Some at WIPO blamed the 2014 suicide of WIPO chief ethics officer Avard Bishop on the dysfunction over which Gurry presided.
Pooley said Bishop, a 20-year veteran at the agency, had complained of feeling “bullied and harassed.” Brown knew Bishop too – he was distressed by Gurry’s abuses of power and had complained of being undermined by the director-general, she told last year’s congressional hearing.
One of Brown’s early tasks was to manage WIPO’s deal with the deeply offended Carlotta Graffigna. Brown concluded that the Singapore transfer was Gurry’s retribution for Graffigna’s efforts to expose the interior of the DNA scandal and the process by which the Italian had been identified as a suspect – and as a bid by Gurry to head off the risks such an investigation might pose for him.
Brown reported her concerns about Gurry’s conduct to the embassies of , Britain and the US, all of which were members of WIPO.
And, after challenging Gurry in 2012 on the wisdom of a controversial WIPO gift of computers and other equipment to rogue nation North Korea’s patents office, Brown reported the matter to the US embassy – and handed over a pile of documents.
She was troubled on several counts. First, the shipment might be in breach of UN sanctions on North Korea; second, a senior WIPO colleague had informed her the gift to North Korea and a similar shipment to Iran, also under UN sanction, had been vote-buying deals by Gurry – both Pyongyang and Tehran had voted in the ballot that Gurry had won by a single vote; and third, the gifts had not been disclosed to WIPO’s member states, at least some of whom, she reasoned, would oppose them.
All hell broke loose. The gift shipments were attacked in the US Congress and the media.
An independent assessment commissioned by WIPO took a swipe at Gurry, declaring: “We simply cannot fathom how WIPO could have convinced itself that most member states would support the delivery of equipment to countries whose behaviour was so egregious it forced the international community to impose embargoes ???”
Two UN sanctions committees weighed in, at WIPO’s request.
They concluded neither shipment had breached sanctions. But they rapped Gurry’s knuckles, saying it might have been smarter for WIPO to consult them before shipping; and that WIPO needed to keep its activities in both countries under close review to ensure the equipment was not redirected to the activities that were being punished by sanctions.
Finally, the committees “encouraged” WIPO to collaborate with other international agencies on its activities in North Korea and Iran, saying it “believed” it would have been advisable for WIPO to consult the committees earlier.
The jig was up for Brown – she became isolated; was excluded from the senior executive meetings she normally attended; and whereas previously she was tasked verbally, her assignments now came by email. Daily interaction with Gurry ceased; he no longer asked her to join his meetings with ambassadors and other VIPs. And colleagues told Brown they had been instructed to ostracise her.
On being warned by a diplomatic contact that Gurry intended to launch an investigation to make her reveal the names of WIPO staff who had provided the documents she had leaked and, ultimately, to drive her out, Brown went on sick leave.
That stretched to five months. On returning to work in September 2012 Brown was summonsed to a meeting with Gurry and WIPO’s director of human resources, at which she was accused of disloyalty and was informed that her contract, which still had seven months to run, would not be renewed.
A few weeks later she wrote to Gurry: “I hereby submit my resignation ??? I would have preferred to stay and do my job at WIPO. However, for reasons that need not be recited here, you have made that impossible.”
But Brown, London-born, Paris-raised and a citizen of , Britain and Germany, wasn’t quite finished – on her way out, she filed a formal request for an investigation into the DNA scandal. Separately, Wei Lei, who grew up near Canberra, complained to WIPO’s ethics officer about favouritism by Gurry’s in awarding a WIPO contract to an n firm.
Pooley, the American attorney whose five-year term at WIPO ended in 2014, included the Brown and Lei charges in a 12-page indictment of Gurry which he lodged with the chairpeople of the governing bodies of WIPO – its general assembly and its co-ordination committee, both of which comprise nominees of the agency’s 189 member states.
The chief information officer Lei still works at WIPO, but agency insiders say that he is being punished too. They say he is being marginalised and suspect he is being set up for constructive dismissal. He is excluded from internal meetings that he previously attended and barred from representing WIPO at interagency meetings. He has been left dangling on the terms of his contract, which expires this month – on its last renewal, his contract was rolled over for three years; most recently, it was renewed for just three months.
Brown took a job at the UN High Commission for Refugees, where she became embroiled in another controversial UN whistleblowing scandal. An investigation
When Gurry’s first term as director-general expired in 2013 three challengers confronted him as he sought another six-year term at the helm of WIPO.
In Canberra, the Abbott Coalition government had just won office – and resorting to the same laudatory language used by Labor’s Stephen Smith in 2008, Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop and Trade Minister Andrew Robb publicly endorsed Gurry’s bid for a second term on their 10th day in office.
Spurred by an American congressional ginger group opposed to Gurry’s reappointment, Washington wavered when Canberra asked for its vote – Pooley’s claim that Canberra warned of serious damage to a historically cosy bilateral relationship if Washington refused to back Gurry seems borne out by a heavy-handed letter at the time, in which ‘s ambassador to Geneva, Hamish McCormick, warned Brown that she could be sacked from DFAT, because “any attempt to discredit Dr Gurry [and] his reputation, or to undermine his re-election is an action against the n national interest”.
Gurry won – 46 votes against 37 for the rest of the field.
World Intellectual Property Organisation head Francis Gurry at the UN in Geneva. Photo: AP
The DNA scandal was an election issue and, despite Gurry’s victory, the WIPO General Assembly meeting that confirmed his reappointment in May 2014 also caved to demands from the US, South Korea and Estonia for a full, external investigation of Pooley’s charges – in particular, Gurry’s role in the DNA scandal and the process in which WIPO awarded a sensitive cybersecurity contract to Argo Pacific of .
The investigative task was assigned to the UN’s New York-based Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS).
Miranda Brown told OIOS that even before she had joined WIPO and before the lifting of staff immunity to allow an authorised collection of staff DNA, Gurry had told her the Swiss police had acquired DNA samples from the suspected authors of the anonymous letters – and that Carlotta Graffigna’s DNA matched the DNA lifted from the letters.
Gurry’s predecessor Kamil Idris told the investigators that when he explained his initial refusal to lift staff immunity to allow staff to be interviewed by the police, Gurry became agitated, accusing Graffigna of writing the letters and declaring that he’d find his own way to get staff DNA.
Gurry denied these accounts by Brown and Idris, insisting he had no involvement in the sweeping of the staff desks and he could not recall how the list of staff who were stripped of immunity had been compiled.
Perhaps the only witnesses who could shed light on compilation of the list of staff suspects and on the illicit collection of personal items from the desks of some were the Swiss police – and for reasons that were never clearly stated they simply refused to respond to several requests by OIOS investigators for their co-operation.
In the absence of that vital police evidence, the investigation concluded that despite strong indications that Gurry had a direct interest in the outcome of the DNA analysis, there was no evidence that he was involved or that he had attempted to derail earlier internal investigations.
On the letting of the cybersecurity contract, valued at 100,000 Swiss Franc, to Sydney-based Argo Pacific, OIOS found that Gurry had directly influenced the process by issuing instructions for the selection to be based purely on technical grounds – which it declared to be “acting in non-compliance” with a requirement in WIPO’s procurement rules for a weighting of technical and financial considerations.
But Gurry’s association with Argo Pacific CEO Paul Twomey was professional, rather than personal, the report said, and there was no evidence that Gurry had gained financially or personally from the deal.
In a brief conclusion that made no express distinction between the DNA scandal and the contract procurement, OIOS concluded: “The established facts constitute reasonable grounds to conclude that the conduct of Mr Francis Gurry may be inconsistent with the standards expected of a staff member of the World Intellectual Property Organisation.”
Gurry embraced the OIOS findings on the DNA issue, saying a comment from him on the “unfounded allegations made by Mr Pooley” was unwarranted. And he simply rejected the findings on the contract issue, claiming the evidence did not support them, they were wrong in law and the investigators had failed to consider “compelling and determinative pieces of evidence”.
OIOS recommended that WIPO consider “taking appropriate action against Mr Francis Gurry”.
But after months of wrangling in which US Congress members demanded that Gurry be fired and accused of blocking efforts to hold him accountable and of abandoning the whistleblowers, Gurry was off the hook. The agency’s co-chairmen – one from Columbia, the other from Rwanda – put the OIOS report to bed, declaring there was “no justification for any disciplinary action”. ‘It’s another false story’
Gurry likes to say he’s not interested in political squabbling – but political squabbling is interested in him. In a wide-ranging interview with Fairfax Media, he denied, qualified or dramatically recast the circumstances of a series of other allegations against him by WIPO staff and whistleblower advocates.
His campaign did not focus on the alleged corruption of his predecessor, he said, but: “WIPO had been through a traumatic experience – management had left much to be desired; it was in deficit; there were no results and things were at a standstill. But I wanted to look to the future, not the past.”
Yes, he had demanded that the authors of a report on past corruption – which had cleared Idris, his predecessor, of wrongdoing – redact the document and that it not be circulated. But his intention had been to keep a lid on wild, unsubstantiated allegations; and not, as claimed by critics, to suppress a document that would have undermined his anti-corruption campaign theme.
No, he had not bought the one vote by which he won the first election in 2008. “That’s a myth – you have 85 states voting anonymously. Who is the one? I made no pacts with members – implicit or explicit. It’s another false story.”
No, he had not sacked the staff association. Its demise had come about following a petition from 70 staff, challenging a practice by which only the association’s fee-paying members elected the representatives, which was found to be contrary to WIPO’s rules – and on new elections being called with the whole staff voting, only one of five previous representatives won a seat on the staff council.
“The staff did it because they were pissed off with the association,” he said.
No, he did not buy the silence of a former staff association officer with a half-million Swiss franc payout. But following a series of internal investigations the worker wanted to negotiate an exit – “claims of a half-million payout are complete rubbish, but the terms of the settlement were confidential, at his request”.
Yes, there had been a cash settlement with Carlotta Graffigna, but not because of the move to transfer her to Singapore in the aftermath of the DNA scandal, as canvassed in the OIOS report. The payment to Graffigna had been based on a parallel claim she had filed against a senior manager who had isolated her, with little meaningful work, for six months – “it was that and nothing else,” Gurry insisted.
What has happened under his leadership?
“The staff has been through radical shock treatment in terms of changed management and strategic realignment. It’s a difficult process, but after three and a bit years we had righted the organisation, and people who initially were confused, suspicious and sceptical see that we’re still here – it’s all good. They’re happy and we still have our jobs.”
Yes, he conceded he had spent $US200,000 on a Washington lobbyist when committees in congress demanded his presence and that of his staff at public hearings, and here he launched a derisory assault on the self-importance of some members of Congress.
Laying out how WIPO member states, like the US, all enjoyed the same rights to engage WIPO, he said: “We’re supposed to live in a world in which we aspire to the rule of law – but what does it have to do with a congressman from Nebraska? [These hearings] are a trumped-up kangaroo court – come on!”
Brown and Pooley, Gurry argued, had not observed the terms of WIPO’s then existing whistleblower policy – Pooley was politically motivated and used his Washington connections to get congressional hearings; Brown took herself off to another job, in another agency and had no legitimacy as a whistleblower.
“She was completely defeated – I’m not the one out there,” he snapped.
“Preposterous,” says Beatrice Edwards, the whistleblower protection advocate, of Gurry’s insistence that Brown is not a legitimate whistleblower. “Brown saw what she believed was wrongdoing and rightly believed that she could not report it internally without risking retaliation or the destruction of evidence. She confided discretely in one of the member states of WIPO; Gurry found out and harassed her to quit for a lower-paying job at another UN agency.”
Beatrice Edwards, whistleblower advocate and head of the Washington-based Government Accountability Project
Edwards and other advocates argue that the WIPO whistleblowers are entitled to better protection because the allegations on the DNA scandal and the cybersecurity contract ultimately were deemed to warrant investigation by the agency’s governing bodies; that corruption of the contract procurement process was proved; and that key questions on the DNA scandal were left open because of the intransigence of the Swiss police.
They make the point too, that one un-redacted copy of the OIOS report was released – to Francis Gurry, thereby exposing witnesses in what had been a closed-door investigation to retaliation.
Despite Gurry’s claim that WIPO’s whistleblower policy at the time of the DNA scandal conformed to the broader UN policy of the period and that, at the request of member states, revisions were now in the works to align current policy with UN best practices, Edwards casts the outcome of the DNA scandal as a sad morality tale for current WIPO staff.
“It goes without saying that current WIPO staff members, seeing this debacle for whistleblowers and continuing to be subject to the whims of … [the] director-general, will keep their mouths shut as malfeasance at the upper reaches of WIPO continues,” she says. Back in Canberra …
Meanwhile, Canberra’s ardour seems to have cooled. When Fairfax Media submitted questions to Julie Bishop, the Foreign Affairs Minister put a bit of distance between herself and Gurry by departing from her usual practice of speaking in her own name.
Attributed to “a spokesperson” for the Foreign Affairs Minister and devoid of the effusive language of Bishop’s 2013 election endorsement of Gurry, the response was silent on a specific request for an indication of the Turnbull government’s support for Gurry.
In what read as an attempt to cast Gurry as a problem more for the world community than for Canberra, the spokesperson said: “Dr Francis Gurry’s performance as WIPO Director-General was endorsed by the strong international support for his re-election.”
The response also was silent on the circumstances of the whistleblowers, Brown and Lei; on any effort by Canberra to defend their rights; and even on a simple acknowledgement that they had rights.
Instead, the spokesperson said: ” continues to support the proper investigation of allegations of misconduct, accountability and transparency in all international organisations. is also an active supporter of whistleblower protection efforts within the UN system.”
Asked about Canberra’s role in the WIPO dogfight over the OIOS report, the spokesman glided over any shortcomings in the report and its conclusion that Gurry might not be up to the standards required of a WIPO staffer. “The n government is satisfied that the allegations against Dr Gurry were properly investigated. No investigation found a basis for further action against Dr Gurry,” the spokesperson said.
And there’s still the wrinkle with Washington.
In the wash-up on the OIOS report, US ambassador to Geneva Pamela Hamamoto complained about WIPO’s performance under Gurry and the agency’s handling of the report, which was shared with member states only after months of clamouring by the US and others – first as a three-page summary and then in a black-blobbed, redacted format.
Pamela Hamamoto, US ambassador to Geneva Photo: Andrew Darby
In a bizarre turn, WIPO delegates who insisted on reading an unexpurgated version of the document were required to present themselves at a reading room, in which they were allowed only two hours to study the 55-page report – and only after surrendering their mobile phones and undertaking not to attempt to take away copies of the report.
Citing years of alleged wrongdoing that had undermined confidence in WIPO and diminished perceptions of its integrity, Hamamoto seemed to endorse the actions of the whistleblowers and the claimed retaliation by Gurry. She added: “The matters raised in the report and its recommendations have not been well handled. Despite the fact that most member states [of WIPO] believe that continuing the discussion would not be productive, we will remain vigilant to ensure that this period of turmoil at WIPO is not repeated.”
And Washington has been as good as the ambassador’s word.
Curious about how North Korea’s patent office might have deployed the technology it received from WIPO in 2008, Miranda Brown recently checked Pyongyang’s patent filings on WIPO’s database – there were just 47 applications.
Glowing like kryptonite, at No. 3 on the list was a patent for sodium cyanide, a dual-use chemical – either as a precursor for chemical weapons or in gold mining, both of which might come under UN and US sanctions on the breakout nuclear state.
Nikki Haley, Washington’s ambassador to the UN, was apoplectic. In a direct swipe at Gurry and WIPO, she said: “The thought of placing cyanide in the hands of the North Koreans, considering their record on human rights, political prisoners, and assassinations is not only dangerous but defies common sense. We urge all UN agencies to be transparent and apply the utmost scrutiny when dealing with these types of requests from North Korea and other rogue nations.”
Bishop’s spokesperson cautiously deferred to yet another UN sanctions committee’s investigation of WIPO’s handling of the North Korean patent application – which has yet to make a ruling. But she stopped short of throwing Gurry under the bus – “this matter concerns an application for a sodium cyanide patent, and not its production. WIPO has stated that it understands that patents and other technology disclosures are not covered by UN Security Council sanctions,” Bishop said.
Gurry is unbowed here too. He told Fairfax Media: “It’s a rubbish complaint and I fully expect the UN panel of experts will find accordingly.”
In a first for UN agencies of which Gurry can’t be proud, even if it amounts to pin money for WIPO, the US docked 15 per cent from its contribution to the agency in 2015 and 2016, to punish its failure to adopt best-practice whistleblower protection. A decision for 2017 is imminent.
Ten years on, the DNA affair remains shrouded in mystery.
The identities of the instigators of the anonymous letter campaign against Gurry have not been revealed. Secrecy still surrounds precisely how some WIPO staffers became suspects. And no one is saying who authorised the surreptitious removal of personal items from the three desks at WIPO headquarters.
In hindsight, Gurry concedes that pulling in the Swiss police and having his staff swabbed and fingerprinted probably wasn’t going to endear him to his staff.
“That might have been a mistake. Another approach to getting it on the public record might have been better,” he told Fairfax Media. “It did inform a tumultuous start to my tenure and certain people have made it an issue that they don’t want to die.”