United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon surprised reporters when he said the U.N. intended to address the turmoil in the financial markets by slashing its own budget 2 percent in all departments.
But Ban didn't have the authority to order the cuts. Any prospective reductions would need the approval of several General Assembly budget committees before being submitted to the 192-member body for approval.
That didn’t happen, but Ban’s announcement in New York City prompted the U.N. staff to vow to fight any salary cuts, including the threat of a "work action" if Ban followed through.
U.N. documents show that the former South Korean foreign minister might want to begin his austerity campaign at home, literally. Before Ban took office in January 2007, the U.N. began what it called a "major renovation" of the secretary-general's official residence at 3 Sutton Place on Manhattan's Upper East Side.
The trendy townhouse overlooking the East River has been the subject of repeated controversy. Prior renovations began in January 1997, just as Kofi Annan assumed the U.N.'s top post. By the time the project was completed in mid-May, the U.N. acknowledged cost overruns.
Although several additional expenses could be justified, others raised eyebrows, such as documents revealing that a significant portion of the charges resulted from several construction workers’ watching pay-per-view porno movies during their regular shifts.
It was an "embarrassment" that the U.N. insisted was corrected at the time, but the organization though has never detailed those corrections.
Fast forward to November 2006. The U.N. asked the General Assembly for funds for yet another renovation before the new secretary-general took up residence. The request revealed that much of the previous work was shoddy and that the townhouse had become a safety and health hazard.
A month later, the General Assembly adopted a resolution authorizing the secretary-general “to enter into commitments up to an amount of $4,490,400” during 2006-2007.
Ban spent almost eight months in a hotel while the work was done. But he did not stay at just any hotel. He opted for a suite at the Waldorf-Astoria costing more than $30,000 monthly, despite cheaper alternatives in private apartment complexes.
By the time a final bill was submitted, the cost had skyrocketed by almost 50 percent, to $6,672,400. The U.N. attributed the increase to unexpected "termite damage, broken beams and deficient mechanicals."
However, Newsmax has learned that other factors may have inflated the costs.
Ban is not fond of Western cuisine and missed his home-style Korean cooking, so the U.N. is said to have ordered additional modifications to the Sutton Place kitchen to accommodate native Korean cooking.
The U.N. will not reveal what was done, but U.N. workers say the additional costs exceeded $1 million, not including hiring chefs familiar with Korean cooking.
Ban spokeswoman Michelle Montas denied the kitchen claims but refused access to documents.
This past summer, to combat the rise in fuel costs, Ban ordered a reduction in the air conditioning affecting 37 of the 38 floors of the headquarters’ Secretariat tower. The 38th floor was excluded; those are the offices of Ban and his personal staff.
In August, Ban told top U.N .managers at a private retreat in Turin, Italy, that he had tried to "lead by example, but nobody followed."
A month later, the secretary-general met Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, himself a former U.N. diplomat. Lavrov told reporters that the meeting was "incomprehensible."
Some diplomats have expressed doubts about Ban’s administration. Sudan's U.N. ambassador, Abdalmahmood Mohamad, a member of the U.N.'s main budget oversight group known as the Fifth Committee, has publicly called the current administration "corrupt."
And the questions do not stop with Ban Ki-moon.
His security chief at the New York headquarters, Bruno Henn of Germany, who assumed his post in July 2004, has never been able to explain what he did before he joined the U.N. in the mid-1990s, where he worked in Eastern Europe before arriving in New York in 2002.
During the past year, Henn has ignored numerous Newsmax requests for an interview. But Newsmax has learned that Henn used an unmarked U.N. sport utility vehicle for four years that was bought to protect the secretary-general and other U.N. officials.
U.N. officials denied that Henn used an armor-plated vehicle.
As for Henn's use of a regular SUV, Christopher Burnham, a former under secretary-general for management who is now an official with Deutsche Bank, told Newsmax in an e-mail: "I listened carefully to arguments for and against (the release of the SUV), and in the end I felt it was safer for the head of U.N. Security to have use of a U.N. car 24/7 as he is on duty 24/7. Given the post 9/11 world, we need a security chief who can transit police lines to the U.N. all hours of the day and night."
Henn’s predecessors, Michael McCann and Joseph Martella, both on U.N. duty at the time of the 2001 attacks, never sought such a car.
Yet Henn insisted that such access was needed to pass police emergency lines. But U.N. officials confirm that none of the cars in its motor pool, including that of the secretary-general, have the license plates required to transit police lines.
In the event of an emergency, the U.N. seeks the assistance of the New York Police Department or the state police to cross any police barricades, officials said.
In some instances, the NYPD has issued temporary identification cards to selected vehicles to pass through emergency lines. Henn's predecessor, Michael McCann, obtained such a permit, but it was attached to his own personal car, which he used to commute to work. Henn could have gotten such a permit, U.N. officials say.
Newsmax has learned that Henn’s use of the vehicle saved him more than $20,000 a year in fuel, highway tolls, insurance, maintenance, and parking fees, among other features, none of which he appeared to claim as additional income. He also appeared to use it during personal trips around home in Middletown, N.J. about 40 miles south of UN headquarters.
U.N. sources tell Newsmax that Henn returned the keys of his SUV to the organization's motor pool "at least temporarily." Newsmax also has learned that the United Nations internal affairs department has begun making its own inquiries into the history of Henn's SUV.
"These people always get interested when money is involved," said one U.N. staffer familiar with the situation.
Money that U.S. taxpayers help provide, as the federal government picks up about 25 percent of the U.N.'s annual budget.
Henn was unavailable for comment because he was out of town, a security officer said.
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