About ten days ago, it emerged that the SG’s son-in-law is being moved to Iraq. Journalists at the UN probed the move. Here are some excerpts from an exchange between Inner City Press’ Matthew Lee and UN Spokesperson Michele Montas at the UNHQ daily Noon Briefing for journalists on 19 October:
“Question: And there’s a report that I feel I just need to ask about, saying the son-in-law of the Secretary-General is being named the chief of staff of Mr. de Mistura in Iraq. One, is that true and two, was it a competitive process, or what’s the Secretariat’s statement on some questions that have been raised?
“SG Spokesperson: Well, it’s simply a matter between Mr. de Mistura, who had worked with Mr. Chatterjee in Iraq during the first Gulf War, and he asked him to be his chief of staff. It’s something that is strictly Mr. de Mistura’s decision. It would be a lateral move, not a promotion for Mr. Chatterjee, and as you well know, Iraq is an extremely dangerous environment to operate in. And we shielded the publication of any information that increases the risk to any staff member and to the mission as a whole is not very helpful.
Question: So you’re saying The Washington Post publishing this post puts people at risk?
SG Spokesperson: I’m saying what I said. Okay. Because the Secretary-General has always stressed the security needs of the people over there, particularly –- in any mission, actually –- but particularly in Iraq, where, as you know, the security conditions are particularly difficult. That’s all I said. Yes, any other questions?
The excerpt from an exchange between a journalist and a UN spokesperson on the posting of SG BAN’s son-in-law to Iraq is here.
Stefan di Mistura cuts a dashing figure, with his cognac-colored suede jackets and all, and he is certainly a ruthless political operative. Hiring the SG’s son-in-law as his chief of staff is really a no-brainer. What UN manager would not want to hire the SG’s son-in-law? That way, the mission will not be forgotten (in between crises, that is).
To anticipate the outrage, the guy won’t get a promotion, at least initially… And, a “lateral move” is easier to process, administratively, and does not need to go before the UN’s internal appointment and promotion boards, where objections could well be raised … though would any loyal career bureaucrat openly challenge such a decision?
I’m just wondering if there might not also be another calculation, at least from BAN’s (or his adviser’s) side: Putting his son-in-law in what is clearly possibly harm’s way, might it not be an attempt to set an example? The UN Staff Union has been adamantly opposed to sending UN staff to Baghdad since a bombing attack on its HQ there in August 2003 that killed Special Representative Sergio Vieira de Mello, one of the UN’s golden boys, and a member of the A-Team … as well as 19 other staff members.
The U.S. Administration is well aware of staff sentiment on this issue, and has not challenged it directly. But there is increasing pressure on SG BAN to “help” the U.S. out in Iraq now. The SG is clearly preparing to enlarge the UN staff presence there. And sending his son-in-law in the first wave might (or might not) be a way to soften the resistance. At any rate, putting the son-in-law in a dangerous (though high-profile) spot — without even giving him an immediate promotion (though he surely will get one in due time, if not in good order, if he isn’t blown to bits first) makes the PR job slightly easier. It will certainly also win points from the U.S. for SG BAN …
On his Inner City Press blog, Matthew Lee wrote, on 19 October: “For weeks it had been rumored, that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s son-in-law would get a high post with the UN in Iraq, and that Mr. Ban’s former colleague in the South Korean foreign ministry, Choi Young-jin, would be named Ban’s envoy to the Ivory Coast. About the latter, Inner City Press asked Ban’s spokesperson Michele Montas, after hearing from Ivorian president Laurent Gbagbo that the envoy had been mutually selected. Ms. Montas had no comment at the time. Then on October 18, the Choi appointment was announced, and the following morning’s Washington Post carried a small item noting that Ban’s Iraq envoy Steffan de Mistura is naming Ban’s son-in-law Siddarth Chatterjee as his chief of staff. There are stories behind each, portions of which we’ll endeavor to tell in this end-of-week column. First, the UN’s story. On Friday Inner City Press asked Ms. Montas about Chatterjee’s appointment in Iraq, and she responded that it is strictly a matter between Mr. de Mistura and Chatterjee, that it is a lateral move and not a promotion, and that “we feel the publication of any information that increases the risk to any staff member and to the mission as a whole is not very helpful.”
Inner City Press asked, “Are you saying that the Washington Post’s publication puts the mission at risk?”
“I’m saying what I said,” Ms. Montas replied.
“An aside: Inner City Press often takes and presents UN Spokesperson Montas’ objections to the legitimacy of questions at face value. But in this case, we have reason to believe, and have decided to report, that the responsibility for the above-quoted dig at press freedom lies on the 38th Floor, and not the third (where the Spokesperson’s Office is housed). Apparently from the highest levels, attempts were made that this widely-rumored story not be published. But since it is journalistically legitimate, even imperative, to report on what some are calling possible nepotism in public institutions, security concerns would have militated against this assignment of the Secretary-General’s son-in-law to Iraq. “It’s a big world,” as one source fearing retaliation put it, adding that Chatterjee was initially going to be promoted from P-5 up into the “D” ranks, but that it was decided to forego this for now, to present the move as lateral.
“The subtext to Ms. Montas’ statement that this was a matter between Mr. de Mistura and Mr. Chatterjee is that these fearful insiders report that Mr. de Mistura made the appointment in order to curry favor on the 38th floor, just as, the sources say, he previously hired the son of Kofi Annan’s close aide Iqbal Riza. What makes it unrealistic to expect this story not to be explored is that de Mistura was so recently given the Iraq envoy post”. The Inner City Press post on SG BAN’s son-in-law being posted to Iraq is here.