The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), the massive body which overseas the global regime for patents, trademarks and domain names, is under investigation by the UN's anti-corruption unit, the Office of Internal Oversight, according to reports on Thursday.
The UN corruption investigators, based out of Vienna, have apparently opened a preliminary investigation into DNA theft, improper IT contracts and mismanagement at WIPO, though the actual crimes may run far deeper.
Last month the national ambassadors, who sit on WIPO's General Assembly and provide oversight of WIPO, called for an investigation but it was unclear if international authorities would do anything against the powerful body.
The Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) is now examining a long list of allegations against WIPO chief Francis Gurry. According to reports he ordered his security chief to illegally take personal items from senior staff offices to have them tested for DNA.
Yet WIPO staff have diplomatic immunity, meaning the tests, conducted by Swiss police in a Geneva lab, are illegal under international law.
The tests were conducted because Gurry wanted to find out who had mailed anonymous letters of complaint to WIPO which contained allegations regarding Gurry's behavior and financial misconduct.
That misconduct was allegedly voiding IT contracts and bids and steering the business to an acquaintance, despite cheaper bids and contracts being available.
To protect his scheme, Gurry fired Moncef Kateb, head of the staff council, before he was due to give a key speech to the Ambassadors' General Assembly. Kateb had previously reported Gurry for reaching UN Security Council sanctions by shipping computer parts to North Korea and Iran.
Independent audit firms KPMG and Labyrinth Consulting had launched previous investigations into the WIPO allegations but were closed down on Gurry's orders.
Gurry could not explain a cash payment made to one of WIPO's auditors, referred to as “Mr X”, which seems to have been related to closing one of the investigations.
WIPO's staff council, in a letter to the organization, asked:
Did neither the Director General nor Mr X realise that for the former to allocate a significant monetary sum to the latter in the present circumstances would, if the facts were ever revealed, cast a deeply worrying light on both of them?
The 12,000 Swiss Franc payment was recorded as being for: "smooth and efficient running of the Office of the Director General".
The international nature of WIPO has led to senior officials in Australia, the UK and the United States facing calls for action on the organization, with many former employees fearing the corruption and graft goes far deeper than has been publicly reported to date.
The organization handles multi-billion dollar patents, which means many large and powerful companies would have a huge financial incentive to engage with corrupt officials if it meant gaining a global trade advantage.
Gurry has previously denied all allegations, while the WIPO itself has refused to comment.