Uncle Sam breathes sigh of relief as Singaporean hopeful thrashes China's candidate in vote to elect new WIPO boss

Fresh start for 'FIFA of UN agencies'?

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The current head of Singapore's intellectual property authority, Daren Tang, has won the race to become Director General of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).

Tang gained 55 votes versus 28 for Chinese candidate Binying Wang.

The vote by 83 United Nations member states was held behind closed doors and involved six candidates and two rounds of voting. The Kazakh candidate withdrew before the first vote and Peru's was removed after coming last in the first vote. Colombia and Ghana also withdrew before the second vote, leaving just China and Singapore in the running.

Tang's candidacy must now be rubber-stamped by a vote of the WIPO General Assembly, which will meet 7-8 May.

The US-trained lawyer started working at the Singapore office in 2012 and has led it since 2015. Before that he was a senior counsel for the Singaporean Attorney-General's international affairs division.

The US State Department, which has been vocal in opposing China's bid to lead the organisation, welcomed the news.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo congratulated Tang on winning the vote, describing him as "a vocal proponent of transparency and institutional integrity, and a leader who can unify WIPO member states by forging consensus on difficult issues".

Tang replaces two-term leader Francis Gurry. His leadership of the patent and domain name regulator has been controversial to say the least.

While WIPO has all the privileges of a UN agency – immunity from investigation, prosecution and tax – it also enjoys a certain freedom from oversight because it is largely funded by company contributions rather than relying on funding from member states.

Gurry was accused of illegally DNA testing senior staff in an attempt to find out who had been sending anonymous letters of complaint accusing him of sexual harassment and financial impropriety. WIPO security goons removed items from staff offices for testing and lifted their diplomatic immunity to allow Swiss police to test them too. No matches were found.

Gurry was also accused of improperly interfering in a procurement process in order to favour a long-time acquaintance. When this did not work, Gurry simply cancelled the standard process and handed the contract to his friend.

The Reg revealed that an investigation by the United Nations Office of Internal Oversight into the agency found Gurry guilty of fiddling with the IT procurement process but no substantive action was taken.

The oversight office's report stated: "Although there are strong indications that Mr Gurry had a direct interest in the outcome of the DNA analysis, there is no evidence that he was involved in the taking of the DNA samples."

The report was not released, even to UN diplomats. Instead, ambassadors had to book a two-hour appointment to read the 1,000 pages at WIPO's offices. Mobile phones had to be surrendered, a non-disclosure agreement signed and ambassadors were not even permitted to take notes.

James Pooley, deputy director of WIPO, and senior adviser Miranda Brown took their concerns to the US House Foreign Affairs Committee where congressman Brad Sherman described WIPO as "the FIFA of UN agencies".

Back in 2015, several congressmen wrote to then Secretary of State John Kerry in a bid to clean up what they saw as a toxic environment at the UN agency.

Gurry took action against perceived enemies – head of the staff council Moncef Kateb and whistleblower IT director Wei Lei. Both were sacked.

Kateb was the first whistleblower who alerted authorities that the WIPO boss was providing IT equipment to Iran and North Korea in apparent breach of UN Security Council embargoes. WIPO's external review (PDF) cleared it of any wrongdoing, although it did agree to new policies on technology transfers in future.

Gurry remains in post until 30 September. ®

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