UNITED NATIONS, March 21 (Reuters) – U.N. peacekeepers enforcing a December 2000 peace accord between Ethiopia and Eritrea defrauded the world body of more than $500,000 in telephone calls, U.N. auditors reported on Monday.
Two unidentified UN observers of the UNMEE (UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea) patrol the border. (AFP).
Word of the abuse surfaces as the United Nations finds itself under fire for mismanagement of the now-defunct U.N. oil-for-food program for Iraq and for sexual abuse of minors by peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
U.N. soldiers normally have to pay for personal calls while on a mission but the troops serving in Ethiopia and Eritrea used stolen personal identity codes or abused a grace period to place calls without paying for them in 2003 and 2004, the U.N. Board of Auditors said.
Users at the time were given a one-minute grace period before billing began, to ensure a connection was made.
Some soldiers abused the system by dialing as many as 100 consecutive calls within a single hour, each lasting less than a minute, to escape billing, the board said in its latest annual report on the finances of peacekeeping operations.
When the peacekeeping mission’s finance unit asked for help in recovering the money after the fraud was discovered, the force commander’s office promised assistance “but did not provide it,” the board said.
Overriding the auditors’ recommendation, the U.N. Department of Peacekeeping Operations then decided it would be too costly to trace and recover the money from the governments whose troops were responsible, according to the report.
To prevent a repeat, the issuance of identity codes has been restricted and the grace period has been cut to 30 seconds, the auditors said.