19 January 2006 | Rebecca Ellinor
The United Nations has suspended eight procurement officials as part of an ongoing investigation of its purchasing department and peacekeeping operations.
A further four staff have been recalled from peacekeeping missions and put on leave with full pay.
The UN's Office of Internal Oversight Services is carrying out the audit, which is expected to be completed "shortly".
A spokesman said the suspensions had been made to assist the UN in "finalising our audit to do with the investigation into the procurement office".
He stressed it was merely an "administrative action" not disciplinary and "as a consequence, it does not prejudge if they will return to work".
The audit follows the discovery of "irregularities" in procurement found as part of an investigation into the running of the oil-for-food programme in Iraq.
As reported by SM (News, 25 August 2005
), former senior procurement officer Alexander Yakovlev pleaded guilty "to conspiracy, wire fraud and money laundering charges arising from his receipt of at least several hundred thousand dollars from foreign companies in connection with his duties as a procurement officer at the UN between 1993 and 2005".
In addition to the criminal case, secretary-general Kofi Annan ordered an independent review of purchasing, which was carried out by Deloitte & Touche. As reported in SM, (News, 15 December 2005
) that review concluded the UN's "outdated" procurement system left it open to fraud. It recommended the UN update its processes and guidelines; improve professional development of staff, including an ethics programme; and put a staff rotation policy in place.
On Monday the UN announced it was keeping Deloitte & Touche on for a further six months so the firm could "carry out a comprehensive audit of procurement as a follow up".