Reporting serious allegations made against WIPO director general was not fake news, it was essential

Francis Gurry’s criticisms of media coverage of the fallout from a Report of Misconduct filed against him by his deputy completely miss the point

I write to report what l believe is serious misconduct by WlPO’s Director General, Francis Gurry. Specifically, l draw your attention to (1) the taking of DNA from senior WIPO staff members without their knowledge or consent, in violation of fundamental human rights, as well as efforts to suppress evidence and investigation of the incident; and (2) evidence of the corruption of a recent procurement that was redirected and awarded to an Australian company led by an acquaintance of Mr Gurry, even though that company had not been selected in the competitive process.

So began the Report of Misconduct about WIPO Director General Francis Gurry, written by then WIPO Deputy Director James Pooley on 2 April 2014 and sent to the chairs of the General Assemblies and Coordination Committee of the organisation.

Just over two years later, WIPO member states endorsed the committee’s decision to drop any further investigation of the allegations. This followed a report from the United Nations’ Organisation of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), which found 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.” Further, it stated: “There is no evidence that Mr Gurry attempted to suppress an investigation into the taking of DNA samples.”

However, it also made clear that the Swiss authorities, which would have had the relevant information about the samples and their acquisition, refused all requests to cooperate and provided no information whatsoever.

Regarding Pooley’s second accusation, the report stated: “Mr Gurry had directly influenced procurement processes so as to facilitate the award of the contract,” but, it continued: “There was no evidence that Mr Gurry directly or indirectly gained any financial or personal benefit from the procurement processes” and “in disregarding the financial weight of the predetermined evaluation criteria, Mr Gurry acted in non-compliance of WIPO’s Procurement Instructions”.

Throughout the two-and-a-bit years between the original report and the decision to drop the investigation, IAM regularly covered what was, by any standards, a sensational story that no serious IP publication could ignore. So, why bring it up again nearly four years’ later?

The narrative was raised again in July in an interview given by Gurry to Managing Intellectual Property (MIP) headlined: “WIPO’s Gurry hits out at ‘fake news’”.

In the piece, Gurry, who is set to be replaced by Darren Tang on 1 October, says that media that covered the initial allegations made against him were also obliged to report the findings that led to the investigation into him being dropped. However, he observed: “There was very little [media] reporting on the conclusions.” He continued: “You have certain people running around saying this, that and the other, but what’s the responsibility of someone who makes the accusation and which results in a six or 12 month process from which there is nothing found?”

“We all know that one of the fundamental problems is ‘fake news’ and the integrity of information. Anyone can put anything out there, and I see that as one of our biggest problems. I don’t think we have fully come to terms with this,” Gurry concluded.

Gurry does not identify any specific titles in the interview, and it would be interesting to know who he has in mind. Clearly, it cannot be IAM. We covered the OIOS findings and the decision to drop the investigation. We also reached out to WIPO several times to ask for comment but were always met with the same response: “No.”

What was also disappointing is that between 2014 and 2016, it seemed that there was more focus inside WIPO on preventing a full, independent investigation of Pooley’s allegations than a determination to uncover whether there was anything to them.

For example, when Gene Quinn of IPWatchdog linked to the Pooley report in a piece that he ran on his site, he was threatened with legal action if he did not take the link down. Even when the OIOS did finally get involved, after the chair of the WIPO General Assemblies took the decision to bypass the organisation’s internal procedures and call it in, there was great unwillingness to share its findings. The report was made available to nobody but the chair and Gurry himself, while a heavily redacted version was given to member states; and then only after months of delay.

Over the course of two years, WIPO’s inability to investigate itself in a transparent, independent manner became only too apparent. A number of member states highlighted this, as did the US Congress, where the House of Representatives held a hearing under the banner 'Establishing Accountability at WIPO: Illicit Technology Transfers, Whistleblowing, and Reform', featuring Pooley and others who had made allegations against Gurry.

It is understandable that Gurry would be upset by the accusations levelled at him, but as someone who put himself forward for public office, he must accept that such things can come with the territory. When someone as senior as Pooley makes allegations about someone as senior as Gurry, then we have the right to expect that they will be taken extremely seriously, independently investigated as soon as possible with full witness protection and the full findings made public. WIPO did not do this. That was wrong.

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