US Congressional Committee Cancels Briefing, Blames WIPO Director GeneralPublished on 24 July 2012 @ 8:43 pm
By William New, Intellectual Property Watch
The United States House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee today cancelled its briefing on computer and software shipments to Iran and North Korea authorised by the World Intellectual Property Organization. The committee took the action after WIPO Director General Francis Gurry blocked two senior staff from participating in the meeting. [Updated below.]
“Director-General Gurry is obstructing this Committee’s investigation of WIPO’s transfer of U.S.-origin technology to rogue regimes under international sanctions—a transfer that occurred on his watch,” said a statement issued by Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (Florida Republican) and Howard Berman (California Democrat), the chair and ranking member, respectively, of the committee. “Because Mr. Gurry denied two senior WIPO staff members permission to brief Congress on what they know, the Committee has been forced to cancel a briefing which could have afforded our Members an opportunity to get answers.”
Gurry denied permission to Deputy Director General James Pooley, an American, and Miranda Brown, a strategic advisor to the director general, on the grounds that neither were directly involved in the technical assistance programme to deliver computers and software. Brown is an Australian, as is Gurry. The WIPO organigram of top staff is here.
Gurry did give permission to the whistleblower in the case, Moncef Kateb, and has indicated that he would allow other officials to attend (IPW, WIPO, 23 July 2012).
It is not known why the committee is targeting those two WIPO officials for testifying. The committee leaders also said Gurry’s announcement that WIPO will undertake a review is not sufficient.
“Last week, Director-General Gurry announced WIPO would commission a mere review of technical assistance programs rather than the full, independent investigation demanded by this Committee,” they said. “By refusing to commission an independent investigation and by obstructing an investigation by the Congress of the United States, whose citizens provide so much of the funds that keep WIPO operating, Director-General Gurry sends the message that he is not committed to transparency, accountability, and reform.”
“We urge Director-General Gurry to change course and immediately allow WIPO personnel invited by the Committee to testify and appear without fear of any form of retaliation for their testimony.”
The briefing website was here.
Fox previously published the internal WIPO documents related to the computer shipments, available here.
The relevant UN committees for North Korea and Iran, both sanctioned countries, are reviewing the shipments at the UN in New York.
WIPO could not be reached for comment at press time.
[Update:] Intellectual Property Watch has learned that Director General Gurry sent a letter to the committee dated 23 July – the day before the committee press release – expressing the seriousness with which his office is taking allegations being made, and informing them that he is personally willing to appear before the committee at a 1 August hearing it has apparently planned, along with any other competent WIPO official with knowledge of the computer transfer.
Gurry also told the committee that he would provide anything else they need, and took issue with an allegation that he is focussed more on the whistleblower than on an investigation. He said his only focus is to get thorough and credible information about the programme.
[Update 2:] The US State Department today said that it has preliminarily concluded that WIPO did not violate UN sanctions. See story here.
William New may be reached at email@example.com.