US 'reviewing' UN agency over IT supplies to Iran

World Intellectual Property Organization suspected of providing assistance to Iran, N. Korea in violation of sanctions.

WIPO chief Gurry 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
WIPO chief Gurry 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
GENEVA - The United States said on Wednesday it was reviewing a UN agency's dealings with sanctioned countries such as Iran after documents showed the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) had supplied IT equipment to the Islamic Republic.
The Geneva-based WIPO, a 185-member body that includes Iran, sent IT equipment to Iranian authorities, according to correspondence between WIPO and the Iranian agency dealing with intellectual property, dated August 2010 and provided to Reuters by a source close to WIPO.
UN sanctions passed in 2008 to curb the development of Iran's disputed nuclear program prohibit the supply, sale or transfer of a range of materials and technology.
"We have made several inquiries to the WIPO Secretariat and requested any related documentation. We have received several project documents and are in the process of reviewing them," said David Kennedy, spokesman for the US Mission in Geneva.
"We are also working with like-minded countries to urge (WIPO) Director General (Francis) Gurry to conduct an independent, external investigation into past WIPO projects in countries under UN Security Council sanctions," he added.
WIPO's staff association has also complained internally that the organization's assistance to North Korea may be violating two UN Security Council resolutions.
In a letter to the head of WIPO's inspection unit, the staff association said WIPO's help with a "controlled intranet system" for North Korea raised ethical concerns, since it would not be necessary if North Korea allowed its citizens to access the internet.
Gurry, an Australian who has headed the agency since 2008, told Reuters that WIPO had sent some equipment to sanctioned countries like North Korea, but denied that these transfers represented a breach of UN sanctions.
"We have a program for improving office efficiency in the procurement of patents and trademarks and other intellectual property ... which we are doing in over 80 countries around the world. Part of that program involves assistance with software and very limited assistance with hardware," Gurry told Reuters on Tuesday.
"It is our very strong belief that these are not in violation of any UN sanctions," he added.
Another internal WIPO document showed that the hardware transfered to Iran was valued at around 50,000 Swiss francs ($52,500). Gurry confirmed that some IT equipment had been transferred to to North Korea, adding that it amounted to "less than 50,000 francs".
WIPO is unusual among UN agencies in that it generates around 90 percent of its annual budget itself and has very little reliance on member states.
It has an annual income of over 300 million Swiss francs, according to its website.
"We will be going to the UN sanctions committee for our work plans for all countries subject to sanctions," said Gurry.