Secret UN report finds against controversial WIPO chief

Brit diplomats: We support this probe by external bods

United Nations building photo Arnaldo Jr via Shutterstock

Exclusive UN investigators have delivered their report into allegations of illegal behaviour at the World Intellectual Property Organisation.

The report remains secret but Register sources in Geneva suggest it has come down heavily against WIPO's director general Francis Gurry.

The probe is being carried out by the UN's Organisation of Internal Oversight but following WIPO's own rules. Under these rules, if a report has adverse findings against an individual, then that person must be given a chance to read and respond to the report before it is sent to the ambassador responsible for overseeing the agency.

Sources in Geneva told The Reg the report was sent to Francis Gurry last month. He was given ten days to respond, as outlined in WIPO's Investigation Manual. He was then given an extension of another ten days.

The OIOS report, and any response from Gurry, has now been sent to Colombian ambassador Gabriel Duque, who is chair of WIPO's General Assembly – the group of UN ambassadors which oversees WIPO. Ambassador Duque did not respond to our emails.

Gurry stands accused of illegally collecting senior staff's DNA in a failed effort to uncover the author of anonymous letters of complaint sent to WIPO. He is further accused of over-ruling a WIPO technology procurement process in order to hand the contract to a friend. Gurry is further accused of illegally transferring computer equipment to North Korea and Iran in breach of US trade sanctions.

He is also accused of unfairly sacking the head of the staff council the day before a meeting of the General Assembly in order to prevent him criticising Gurry's leadership.

Although two previous reports into Gurry's behaviour have been buried, there is increasing pressure to make sure the OIOS probe, or at least a redacted version of it, is made public.

The Register has seen a letter sent by Swiss law firm Gentium to Ambassador Duque calling for him to publish the report. Gentium represents WIPO's Staff Council.

The letter says:

It is widely known that the allegations against the Director General include the theft of personal effects from WIPO staff and the subsequent extraction of their DNA, without the staff members' knowledge or consent. It is further alleged that these events occurred without the staff members' legal immunities being lifted or waived in any proper way. As such the allegations, if proven, would appear to entail a serious breach of the Swiss criminal law.

I am now writing very respectfully to ask that you promptly release publicly the conclusions of the OIOS investigation to my clients and inform all the staff of WIPO of those conclusions, so that the findings made about these allegations may now be known by all. The rumours and speculations about the allegations made against Mr Gurry, and the contents of the report, are circulating not only throughout WIPO but across the city of Geneva and indeed around the diplomatic community as a whole. None of this is desirable. There has been an investigation into the allegations against Mr Gurry; there has been a report about the matter; and the report should be published, so that all rumours may be put to rest. Any other course would not be fair to Mr Gurry’s reputation….

Naturally, if the report exonerates Mr Gurry then the organization can put this incident behind it. But if the report is critical of his conduct, and/or intimates that he may have participated in the commission of a criminal offence under Swiss law, then it may be appropriate for him to consider his position: or, if he refuses to do so, then the Member States might wish to be given the opportunity to exercise its mandate to remove him from office. Nothing more can sensibly be said about these issues until the conclusions of the report are published.

It is understood that no response to this letter has been received.

In a separate development the US government is starting its own investigation into the allegations at WIPO.

Late last year the US stopped funding WIPO because of concerns about how it dealt with whistleblowers who have complained about Gurry's idiosyncratic management style. The US move was mostly symbolic because WIPO's budget is mostly obtained from charges to businesses across the world. It offers patent protection as well as worldwide domain name resolution services. It predicts income of more than £500m for the years 2016 and 2017.

Next week the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs is holding a hearing on “Establishing Accountability at the World Intellectual Property Organization: Illicit Technology Transfers, Whistleblowing, and Reform”

The Committee will hear evidence from three whistleblowers – James Pooley, WIPO's former deputy director for innovation and technology, Moncef Katab, the ex-head of WIPO's Staff Council and Miranda Brown, a former special adviser to Mr Gurry.

WIPO refused to comment on this story.

The head of the UN investigation refused to comment on this story.

The UK Mission to the UN in Geneva said: "The UK supports the independent investigation by the UN Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) into this matter. We are confident that the WIPO General Assembly Chairman will take appropriate steps to brief WIPO member states on the findings in due course. No WIPO member state, including the UK, has been informed of the progress or any outcome of the investigation. We are therefore unable to comment further at this stage." ®

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