UNITED NATIONS - The United Nations says it is reviewing its use of "pro bono" services after a former U.N. official expressed concerns about the role of David Finn, the chairman of a New York-based international public relations firm, Ruder Finn, in advising Secretary-General Annan.
The firm and Mr. Finn provide free advice to the U.N., but also do some paid work for both the U.N. and member states, according to officials of the U.N. and of the firm. The Ruder Finn Web site lists the governments of Kazakhstan, Russia, and Israel as among the firm's present or former clients. It also lists as present or former clients Indonesia's state-owned oil company and companies in industries such as air travel and pharmaceuticals, which could be affected by U.N. actions.
The review of Mr. Annan's relationship with Mr. Finn comes as the secretary-general and the United Nations are weathering a storm of criticism over corruption in the Iraq oil-for-food program, the failure to prevent genocide in Darfur, and alleged rapes by U.N. peacekeepers in the Congo. Some American senators have called for Mr. Annan's resignation, and a plan for the U.N. to build a temporary headquarters for use while it renovates its existing building is being stalled by the New York State Senate.
The U.N.'s former assistant secretary-general for public information, Samir Sanbar, told The New York Sun that when Mr. Annan became secretary-general in 1997, Mr. Finn used to sit in on executive meetings of the public information and spokesman team as an unpaid adviser on image-making at the international body.
"We were all puzzled: Who is this guy?" Mr. Sanbar said. "My understanding was that he was brought in on a pro-bono basis. But then he would bring in other people, his friends, who got U.N. contracts." These, he said, were small contracts for experts on such things as TV makeup, which Mr. Sanbar said could have been done in-house.
The current U.N. spokesman, Fred Eckhard, said he remembers being caught off-guard when he was asked during a briefing why Mr. Finn was telling reporters, primarily in Europe, that he could arrange interviews for them with the new secretary-general.
Mr. Annan's nephew worked at Ruder Finn until recently, and Ruder Finn's publishing arm is selling Mr. Annan's 2001 Nobel Peace Prize lecture as a hardcover book.
Mr. Finn, who is 83, referred inquiries for this story to a senior vice president at Ruder Finn, Emmanuel Tchvidjian. Mr. Tchvidjian said the Finn-Annan friendship began in the late 1980s, when Mr. Finn met Mr. Annan and his wife Nane at a benefit for the U.N School. "When Kofi Annan became secretary-general, David Finn promised that Ruder Finn would do anything it could to help the U.N. on a pro-bono basis," Mr. Tchvidjian said.
"I'm aware of a close personal friendship between David Finn and Kofi Annan that long precedes Kofi Annan's assumption of office of secretary-general, and I'm aware of friendly pro-bono advice being offered by David Finn," the undersecretary-general for public information, Shashi Tharoor, told the Sun. "But I'm not aware of any extensive contractual arrangements with the secretariat."
Ruder Finn has been employed by some U.N. agencies. Much of its work for the U.N., however, is done without billing the U.N. for the services. The term "pro bono" is used for this work as short for the phrase pro bono publico, which, in Latin, means "for the public good."
Mr. Tchvidjian said that last year, "Kofi Annan asked David Finn if he would give some guidance to his nephew, Kobina Annan." Kobina Annan was paid at a rate of $24,000 a year to work in an internship program at Ruder Finn until November, when he resigned, according to Mr. Tchvidjian. Mr. Annan's son Kojo worked at a contractor involved with the U.N. oil-for-food program.
At the same time that Ruder Finn employed Mr. Annan's nephew, two senior Ruder Finn officials, Anne Glauber and Dena Merriam, who is Mr. Finn's daughter, were hired as outside contractors by the U.N. Development Program to revamp its communications office. They were paid $30,000 for two months' work, according to a UNDP spokesman, William Orme.
And five years ago, a summit on religion that was organized by Ruder Finn used the U.N. and Mr. Annan as a backdrop. According to Ruder Finn, it "not only spent vast amounts of time without charge, but also covered some of the expenses amounting to over $150,000" for the Millennium World Peace Summit.
A 2000 tax return obtained by the Sun shows the nonprofit group organizing the summit spent more than $1.9 million. The tax return listed Mr. Finn, his daughter Ms. Merriam, and the ethics adviser to Ruder Finn, Bawa Jain, as trustees, and identified Ruder Finn's Manhattan offices as the summit's headquarters. Mr. Jain received $80,000 as the general director of the organization, according to the tax return.
In the 2000 opening ceremony of the summit on religion, which took place at the U.N.'s Turtle Bay headquarters, Mr. Jain, with Mr. Annan at his side, said he wanted the U.N. to make the summit a permanent organ of the General Assembly, and repeatedly praised Mr. Finn.
Mr. Jain did not return repeated telephone calls made to the offices of the World Youth Peace Summit, which he founded after the demise of the Millennium World Peace Summit.
The U.N says it is now rethinking whether it is a good idea to accept free services.
"In the past we have accepted pro-bono offers where the service provided was in our interest," Mr. Eckhard told the Sun. Recently, however, "the secretary-general asked [his chief of staff] Mark Malloch Brown to look into a range of management issues, one of which is pro-bono work." He added that the U.N. legal office is in the process of preparing a clear policy.