22 March 2007

Briton charged with corruption at Kosovo airport

Reuters, Wed Jan 3, 2007 6:31 PM GMT


PRISTINA, Serbia (Reuters) - A prosecutor in Kosovo has charged the British former director of the U.N.-run province's main airport with taking bribes for handing out jobs, the United Nations said on Wednesday.


A U.N. statement said Ioan Woolett, who was employed by the European Union-run economic wing of the U.N. mission in Kosovo, was indicted by an international prosecutor on December 19, 2006.


"He is accused of accepting bribes, through a local businessman acting as the intermediary, from Kosovar residents in exchange for employment," the statement said.


Woolett is no longer in Kosovo, a province of Serbia that has been run by the United Nations since NATO bombed in 1999 to drive out Serb forces accused of ethnic cleansing in a two-year guerrilla war.


European Union Commission spokeswoman Emma Udwin said Woolett was employed by the so-called fourth pillar of the U.N. Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo, regarded as the EU pillar, in various capacities from 2003 to 2005.


"His contract was discontinued on September 30, 2005 as a natural consequence of the gradual process of handing over competencies to local institutions," she said, adding she had no more information.


U.N. officials in Kosovo refused to comment on the indictment. A British diplomat in the capital Pristina said: "We are looking into it."


In April 2006, a two-year inquiry by the U.N. internal watchdog, working with EU investigators, found that "fraud and mismanagement were rife and there was systematic corruption" at the airport.


The U.N. Office of Internal Oversight Services accused the then head of the U.N. mission, Danish diplomat Soren Jessen-Petersen, of turning a blind eye to complaints of corruption.


Jessen-Petersen, who left the post in June 2006, rejected the report's conclusions as unwarranted, and insisted he had no mandate to investigate publicly owned enterprises.


Accusations of corruption at the U.N.-run mission and amongst the myriad foreign contractors working in Kosovo are common in the Kosovo media.


More than seven years since the United Nations took control of Kosovo, the 90-percent ethnic Albanian majority is impatient for independence and suspicious of further foreign stewardship.


A U.N. decision on the province's fate is expected this year. Diplomats predict a form of independence, under the supervision of an international envoy and an EU-led police and justice mission.


Woolett, 54, was operations director at Cardiff International Airport in Wales until 1993, when he became an independent consultant.