Exclusive: UN probes FAO nepotism

Mehdi Drissi (left) with DG Graziano (centre). Photo credit. FAO

 ROME– United Nations anti-corruption investigators have opened an inquiry into allegedly blatant job rigging by the “Latin Mafia” at the Food and Agriculture Organisation, UN sources say.

 The UN Joint Inspection Unit in New York launched the probe after the Inspector-General’s office learned of the case of Margot Tedesco, a French field officer who is one of two highly qualified women discarded for the FAO’s Latin American communications officer job in favour of Juan Toha, nephew of Caroline Toha, Chile’s Socialist leader.  

 The office of the Brazilian FAO Director General José Graziano da Silva last year ordered aides to ensure Toha, 37, got the plum post in Santiago, Chile, despite scarce experience, rather than Denise Martinez, 35, a Venezuelan at FAO for five years, or Ms Tedesco, 32, with extensive experience in Congo, despite UN guidelines women be favoured.

  JIU officers arranged to hear evidence this month from Ms Tedesco, now in Rwanda, as French Ambassador Bérengère Quincy prepared a formal protest.

 “I am willing to appeal the decision,” Mlle. Tedesco said. “Too many people keep silent, passively promoting these malpractices. How then will the UN change?”

 “I highly appreciated the article and the investigation work you and your colleagues, are doing and have done,” Mlle Tedesco told Italian Insider.

 “It is particularly important for me because since I have started working in the development field, and even before in France and Italy, I have been working to support medias and journalists to play their role of ‘watch dog’ for democracy, good governance and promoting human rights,” Mlle Tedesco added.

Enrique Yeves, FAO communications chief entrusted the fixing of the P-3 job contest to Mehdi Drissi, Chief, Media Relations, a French Moroccan who was personal fixer for FAO chief Jacques Diouf, often finding him entertainment in Paris, the sources said.

 “I have been asked to make Toha look better,” Drissi told staff. “It is not right. The two other candidates, Martinez and Tedesco, are obviously far more qualified and Martinez would normally be best positioned to get the job. But this is coming from the Director General’s office.”

 Normally Ms Martinez automatically would be hired as a native of Venezuela, a country not represented at FAO, as well as her gender and FAO status.

 Toha “was a straw man,” said a veteran staffer who met him. He is a grandson of José Toha, Chilean interior minister, and nephew of Carolina Toha, Santiago mayor.

 Drissi did not reply when emailed by the Insider. He was part of a panel that interviewed candidates and examined a sample of their written work.

 “Denise Martinez, excellent, original ideas,” Drissi wrote in notes seen by Insider. “Juan Toha. Good but key message?”

“Margot … good overall mark,” M. Drissi wrote.

 Toha’s lacklustre profile was hyped by Drissi in an April 25 report to the Regional Human Resources Officer as “having an extensive network of contacts in the Latin American media.”

“Toha had a slight edge over Martinez … by generating new and innovative ideas,” the report clòaimed mendaciously.

 Mlle Tedesco said “It hurts because, we are asking others to promote gender equality, human rights, good governance, labour rights, etc. but we are not capable to make it respected inside our own UN ‘house’

Assignment editor: Enrique Yeves.
Fixer: Drissi. Photo: FAO