UNITED NATIONS — Late Tuesday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's spokeswoman Marie Okabe told Newsmax that the secretary-general would be traveling to Chicago and would not be attending a controversial UNICEF gala.
It seems Ban wants to separate himself from the event. The bash, the largest in U.N. history, is being entirely underwritten by the Italian fashion house Gucci. And, that has been a source of angst among U.N. officials.
For reasons not made entirely clear by U.N. officials, UNICEF (the U.N. Children's Emergency Fund) allowed the use of its name, logo and access to the grounds at U.N. headquarters in return for a pledge of no less than $750,000 to its AIDs relief fund made by Madonna, Newsmax has learned.
The United Nations, long concerned about its public image and any tie-in with commercial entities, has had a de-facto ban on the use of its name or logo.
"I don't know how such things happen. Gucci went a little too far . . . the secretary-general had planned to attend . . . but now I don't know . . . he's a little worried." Those were the latest comments by Ban's Chief of Staff Vijay Nambiar. He was speaking to the Web site InnerCity Press.
More puzzling is why UNICEF chief Ann Veneman (former U.S. secretary of agriculture) gave Madonna, Gucci and company the green light without vetting the project with her staff or with Ban's office.
UNICEF sources tell Newsmax that many inside the organization were quite upset and embarassed about the fundraiser. U.N. security officials said they will not enter the glitzy auditorium built especially for the event. "We will only be outside. The U.N. does not want us inside the event. They do not want our uniforms with the U.N. logo to be seen anywhere near the Gucci signs," confessed one security officer.
Not only is Gucci using the underwriting as a product tie-in (New York's Fashion Week is underway) but it is also billing the UNICEF event as part of the "grand opening" of its new 5th Avenue flagship emporium.
The event, to be held in an elaborate luxury village built on the U.N.'s North Lawn in New York City, will be hosted by Madonna, and will include Sting, Demi Moore, Matthew Broderick, Chris Rock, and Drew Barrymore.
The Italian fashion house decided to clamp down on press coverage. Media will not be allowed inside the gala.
Access will be restricted to space alongside a red carpet leading into the reception, ala the Oscars.
However, Newsmax has learned that Madonna, who initiated the press ban together with Gucci, also personally lifted it for just a few selected reporters.
Ban, speaking to U.N. journalists on Tuesday, refused any comment on the Gucci fiasco, only saying that he "was pleased" the proceeds of the gala will go to humanitarian causes. Several hours later, he canceled his appearance.
There was no reaction from U.N. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad on the controversy nor from anyone else at the U.S./U.N. mission.
Rumored to be costing more than $5 million, gala tickets are said to be selling for $2,500 each. It has become a magnet for the high-powered New York City social community.
The glittering multimillion dollar bash gets underway Wednesday night.
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