Whistleblowers Detail Accountability Problems At The Top Of WIPO; US Congressional Members Prepare Actions 25/02/2016 by William New, Intellectual Property Watch 4 Comments Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)WASHINGTON, DC — A set of senior former employees of the World Intellectual Property Organization and their representatives yesterday gave detailed sworn testimony to US lawmakers on what they termed extremely serious misconduct and retaliation at the United Nations agency. A congressional subcommittee chairman told Intellectual Property Watch afterward that based on all they have heard, they believe WIPO Director General Francis Gurry has “gone rogue” and that action against him will begin immediately. The US State Department will be pressed to demand a copy of a newly completed UN investigation of Gurry that apparently has been shared with the Colombian Ambassador in Geneva, Gabriel Duque, who is chair of the WIPO General Assembly this year. Members of the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee began openly strategizing with whistleblowers and their lawyers on ways to remove Gurry from office at WIPO, or at minimum draw international attention to his behaviour and get WIPO member states to step up their oversight of the member-state-driven organisation. It is still unclear how much impact a group of congressional members can have in this case. The Joint Subcommittee Hearing: Establishing Accountability at the World Intellectual Property Organization: Illicit Technology Transfers, Whistleblowing, and Reform was held on 25 February and was openly webcast. Intellectual Property Watch was in attendance with the press. The full testimony of the witnesses, who were treated as highly credible by the congressional members, is available on the hearing website. No WIPO representative testified or appeared to be in attendance at the hearing. WIPO did not reply to a request for comment by press time. An overarching theme was how to put in place a system to protect whistleblowers and bring justice in a case where the wrongdoer is the head of the organisation itself. The whistleblowers who testified gave a remarkable account of political manoeuvring and serious retaliation against them for their actions and reporting what they saw as wrong. Even in their testimony, whistleblowers sought to distance themselves from personal attack, rather just reporting what they saw. One witness called it “an ongoing pattern of abuse of authority at WIPO,” while another referred to “a profoundly serious problem with governance” at WIPO. What came out of the hearing was: the UN still does not have a sufficient protection for whistleblowers and needs to reform its process for staff to bring disputes; a clearer external oversight mechanism is needed for the UN agency; member states have not been sufficiently fulfilling their obligation as the “Board” of WIPO; and that Australia’s insistence on supporting Gurry against the judgment of many of its top economic partners may cause a backlash against the country. WIPO was called the “FIFA of UN agencies” by a congressional member who drew a direct comparison to the FIFA soccer association scandal that allowed the head of the organisation to be re-elected even after corruption in the organisation came to light. Congressional members will demand a newly completed report on a UN investigation of the WIPO charges be made available to member states. It is reportedly currently in the hands of the Colombian Ambassador Duque. The hearing comes at a highly political time in the US, in the final months of the US presidential elections, and the UN has been a target for criticism by Republicans. The House of Representatives, in which the hearing took place, is currently controlled by the Republicans. Subcommittee Chairman Chris Smith of New Jersey in his opening testimony yesterday noted that he serves as a co-chair of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China with presidential candidate Marco Rubio. Smith raised concern about WIPO’s secret dealings with China to open an office there. What happens at WIPO matters intensely to the US, whose inventors have long paid more of WIPO’s budget than any other nation through patent fees, and has substantial national security interests in its activities relating to intellectual property, the congressional members said. But congressional members acknowledged that they have limited leverage with WIPO because of the unique case where the UN agency gets less than 10 percent of its funding from governments (mainly collecting its fees for processing international patents and trademarks), and because the US is only one among more than 180 members there. Still, they made it clear they intend to use whatever means they have. With this hearing, a variety of past allegations has resurfaced, along with some new ones. But this time it is all public, and the witnesses testifying claimed to provide extraordinary detail of Gurry’s blatant disregard for individual member states’ and broader UN interests and policies if they didn’t fit his motives. Congressional members were particularly piqued by the allegation from witnesses that Gurry purposely disregarded advice to subject the transfer of technology to UN Security Council sanctions, and that those who sought to stop him were retaliated against. WIPO has in the past sought to provide logical explanations for these allegations. Examples of past allegations are that Gurry is accused of possibly ordering DNA to be illegally obtained the offices of unknowing employees and having it tested, and of knowingly allowing shipments of high-tech equipment – much of it from the US – like a powerful server, computers, printer, and firewall for blocking internet access to heavily sanctioned North Korea and Iran without going through UN security procedures. Another one was that secret meetings were held with China and Russia resulting in signed deals to open new WIPO offices in Beijing and Moscow, without member state approval until after the deals were done. Scrutiny was given in the hearing as to whether these offices give China and Russia – seen as two of the biggest IP rights-infringing nations in the world – privileged access to high-security patent information. One witness acknowledged that it seems logical that China would have a WIPO outreach office since it is the fastest-growing patent-filing nation. There also was reference to an earlier allegation that Gurry steered a WIPO-related contract to a fellow Australian businessman, the former head of an international internet agency. Examples of new allegations are that the technology was shipped to North Korea and possibly Iran ostensibly in exchange for their votes for his election as director general, and that WIPO paid a lobbying firm named Manchester in Washington, DC nearly US$200,000 (in effect paid by its member states’ companies, led by the US) to help Gurry avoid investigation. After hearing testimony from WIPO whistleblowers and a staff union attorney (and having the longer versions they submitted), committee members said they would immediately begin drafting resolutions against Gurry. They also said they would bring Australia to account for having demanded support for Gurry in the last election despite all of the known concerns. Gurry is an Australian citizen who has lived in Geneva working at WIPO for more than 30 years. In addition, they said they could work with the US State Department to cut all of WIPO’s funding, going further than the 15 percent cut WIPO received this year. They further said they would call on the Australian ambassador in Washington to come before them and answer questions about why the country was so adamant about supporting Gurry in the last election, leading to a division among developed countries including the US. Ideas from those testifying included bolstering UN whistleblower protections, getting member states to be more proactive in their role as the agency’s “board of directors,” and establishing some conditions on the blanket diplomatic immunity that heads of UN agencies enjoy. As the Foreign Affairs Committee deals with diplomatic relations, members turned attention to how Gurry got re-elected if in fact there were concerns, and were told Australia forcefully stood its ground in support of him, making it diplomatically difficult for the US to go against one of its closest allies. Witnesses said Australia itself was misled. Chairman Chris Smith said this is hurting Australia’s reputation. Rep. Brad Sherman, a California Democrat, said it is just a question of whether Australia acted with “negligence or gross negligence” in insisting on their candidate even after so many problems were coming to light. He said the resolution should order Australia to come before them if they don’t come out now and declare that Gurry should step down. He was also the one to say with WIPO “we seem to see the FIFA of UN agencies.” Foreign Affairs Committee Chair Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a volatile speaker and critic of the UN, called Gurry and WIPO’s behaviour “absolutely appalling”, and “disgusting.” She said she had been trying to hold this hearing for years and lashed out at Gurry for alleged behaviour, and for repeatedly refusing to respond to questions and requests to come before the committee. “We were appalled” at the lack of transparency and the cover-up, she said. And they were “outraged by Gurry’s disgusting retaliation against whistleblowers.” She submitted for the congressional record a long series of letters sent to Gurry. When they started investigating the “illegal transfer of technology,” she said, they “did not know the extent to which the violations go, and could not know the lengths to which Gurry would go to silence critics,” she said. “WIPO was using fees paid by US taxpayers to fund his illegal shipments” of technologies with “clear dual-use functions,” she said, referring to the technologies’ ability to be used for peaceful but also military purposes. “It is incumbent” on Colombian Ambassador Duque to make this report available and share it with member states, Smith said. In an interview with Intellectual Property Watch afterward, Smith said the alleged buying of votes is particularly troubling, and that systemic reform of the UN is needed, which they will be pressing for in the remainder of the Obama administration and with the next administration. He confirmed that actions would begin immediately, such as drafting a congressional resolution – which is typically non-binding – and he grouped the issues at WIPO in with others being worked on by the committee such as whistleblowers on alleged rapes committed by UN peacekeepers in Africa. He said this is a case where a UN agency has “gone rogue,” and has had a “chilling effect” on staff speaking openly about concerns. A congressional resolution, like a bill, may be introduced by any member, and cosponsors are not required, a Hill staffer said. The witnesses, whose full bios are on the hearing website, were: James Pooley, a patent attorney who was deputy director for innovation and technology at WIPO under the current director general, Francis Gurry; Miranda Brown, former strategic adviser to Gurry; and attorney Matthew Parish, founder and managing director, Gentium Law Group, which serves as legal counsel to the WIPO Staff Council. Moncef Kateb, former president of the WIPO Staff Association who was fired by Gurry, bowed out at the last minute. Parish said there are rules in WIPO, but they “all begin and end with the director general, who can block everything, that’s why we’re here today.” Asked for details of the high-tech equipment, and whether it was just “available on Amazon”, the e-commerce website, Pooley said it was a “massive” printer worth $14,000, a “massive” storage device, a Sonic Wall firewall, and other things. It might have been able to be purchased in the US on Amazon, but they couldn’t bring it to North Korea, he said, adding, “If you did that, you’d go to prison for a long time.” Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window) Related William New may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org."Whistleblowers Detail Accountability Problems At The Top Of WIPO; US Congressional Members Prepare Actions" by Intellectual Property Watch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.