Joff Wild

This blog has been updated to include additional material relating to the report compiled by the UN's Office of Internal Oversight Services following its investigation into alleged misconduct by WIPO DG Francis Gurry. 

The legal counsel to the World Intellectual Property Organisation’s Staff Council has called for the immediate removal of Francis Gurry as the UN agency’s director general and the lifting of his diplomatic immunity so that he might face possible criminal investigation or civil proceedings over the findings of a report into alleged misconduct that was delivered to the Chair of the WIPO General Assemblies in February.

The demand is contained in a letter sent to “All Ambassadors and Permanent Representatives to the United Nations and other International Organizations in Geneva” yesterday. IAM has obtained a copy of the letter and has verified that it is authentic.

The letter was sent following the distribution earlier this week of a heavily redacted version of the findings of an investigation, carried out by the UN's Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), into a series of allegations originally levelled at Gurry by the former deputy director general of the organisation James Pooley back in April 2014. Although the OIOS submitted its findings in February it is only now that WIPO member states have been able to see a copy of the report – albeit one in which large chunks have been blacked out.

In his letter, dated 28th September, Staff Council legal counsel Matthew Parish – managing partner of law firm Gentium Law Group - states: “My office has prepared an unredacted version of the report based upon the information available to it.” He goes on: “Given the inevitable public interest in allegations of serious wrongdoing about a senior international public official, and out of respect for the privacy of those named in the report, I am not currently sharing that unreacted [sic] version on a public basis. Nevertheless, as a service to the Member States, if any Member State wishes that I provide them with the unredacted version of the report that I have prepared, then I will be content to share it upon an individual basis, trusting them in good faith to treat it with discretion.”

In his report of misconduct, Pooley alleged that Gurry had been involved in the removal of WIPO staff members' personal possessions, with a view to collecting their DNA, as well as attempts to prevent a subsequent investigation; and that he had improperly used his influence in a procurement procedure. These and other allegations were subsequently repeated by Pooley, Parish and former WIPO employee Miranda Brown in testimony given to a US House of Representatives’ committee in February. Gurry has consistently denied all the charges.

In its report, the OIOS states that: “Although there are strong indications that Mr Gurry had a direct interest in the outcome of the DNA analysis, there is no evidence that he was involved in the taking of the DNA samples”; and that: “There is no evidence that Mr Gurry attempted to suppress an investigation into the taking of DNA samples.”

However, in his letter Parish claims: “OIOS’s investigations in this regard were hampered by the fact that the Swiss Mission to the United Nations in Geneva, and the Geneva Prosecutor’s Office, refused to cooperate with the UN OIOS investigation. Indeed they simply ignored OIOS’s correspondence.”

With regard to misconduct around procurement, the OIOS found that Gurry “had directly influenced procurement processes so as to facilitate the award of the contract to [REDACTED].” But it also found that “there was no evidence that Mr Gurry directly or indirectly gained any financial or personal benefit from the procurement processes”.

In his letter, Parish states: “The obvious conclusion, reached by the OIOS investigators, was that this was a case of manifest and serious misprocurement inconsistent with the standards to be expected of any international civil servant, still less the director of an international organisation to which surely the highest standards of integrity and probity ought to apply.”

At the end of its report, the OIOS states that in light of its findings: “It is recommended that the Chair of the General Assembly of the World Intellectual Property Organization consider taking appropriate action against Mr Francis Gurry.” However, it does not state what that action should be. Given that the report was compiled in February and Gurry is still in place it seems fair to conclude that, initially at least, the Chair – Gabriel Duque of Colombia – did not feel that any major sanction was needed. However, in light of the distribution of the redacted report and now Parish’s letter, that line may no longer hold.

On 12th September, a number of WIPO member states issued a statement demanding that, having only been able to view the redacted report “under controlled conditions”, they be given copies of it “redacted only to protect witness confidentiality”. It went on:

We wish to note our concerns with the findings and conclusions contained in the OIOS report.   We highlight the importance our governments attach to leaders of organizations abiding by their organization’s staff rules and regulations. Indeed, the director general of WIPO – or the executive head of any United Nations body for that matter – is expected to model the highest standards of conduct and integrity for an international civil servant. We trust DG Gurry will do so, taking into account the findings and conclusions of the OIOS report, and work toward improving the performance and reputation of the organization worldwide.

The next annual meeting of the WIPO General Assemblies will be held from 3rd to 11th October. It is possible that there will be further significant developments during that time. It’s been over two years since the Pooley allegations first surfaced and since then it has often seemed as if everything possible was being done to prevent them being thoroughly investigated. However, there does finally look to have been some real progress made. Hopefully, in the near future this sad and sorry episode will finally come to an end. Whatever else, it has done nothing but harm to WIPO’s reputation.

UPDATE - On 4th October, whistleblower protection advocacy group Government Accountability Project published a link to a document entitled "On the Motivation of Mr Pooley's Complaint" that Francis Gurry had written as part of his rebuttal of the OIOS report and which was sent to all WIPO member state delegations last week, along with the redacted report itself. GAP also linked to a response to this that James Pooley sent to each of the delegations just prior to the start of the General Assemblies meeting, although IAM understands this was not part of the formal process and was something that Pooley did on his own initiaitve. Further, IAM understands that during this week's meeting WIPO member states will be asked by the Chair to vote on a motion proposing that the investigation into Gurry now be dropped. The likelihood is that this will pass. Those who have observed the way that IP politics works on the international stage will not be surprised by this. But they will still be extremely disappointed, not to say disgusted, that an affair that has been so woefully handled from the very start should be swept under the carpet with so many questions left unanswered. This is no way to run a UN agency and it does WIPO's reputation no good at all. That, in turn, does substantial damage to general perpections of IP.