‘The Big Catch’ that ensnared the United Nations Office for Project Services

9 March 2022 – Mukesh Kapila

‘The Big Catch’ is a video game that accompanied a song, ‘We are the Oceans’. They cost the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) a cool US$5 million. Both products – artistic merits being a matter of taste –  sank rapidly into obscurity.  

Most significantly, they presaged the rot of fraud and corruption that enveloped UNOPS, a multi-billion dollar agency of the United Nations system. UNOPS is charged with the awesome task  to “help people build better lives and countries achieve peace and sustainable development”.  How did UNOPS decide that a video game and song were the best use of its precious public funds received in good faith?

In September 2016, the 71st United Nations General Assembly met to debate the “Sustainable Development Goals: A Universal Push to Transform our World”. But Grete Faremo, the Executive Director of UNOPS, her deputy  Vitaly Vanshelboim and General Counsel James Provenzano had more important business. They found time to meet with Paolo Zampolli. The  colourful New York City resident is renowned for his Mafioso physique and vulgar charms, and his modelling and real estate businesses. Somehow he also became an ambassador of Dominica to the United Nations which brought privileged access to the movers-and shakers in the world body.  But most of all he is famous for being a friend of the Trumps, having introduced his protégé Melania to The Donald.

The UNOPS top team was duly dazzled by Zampolli and open to the blandishments of another guest there: David Kendrick, a businessman of uncertain track record.   

Some five months later, in January 2017, a grant of US$5 million was duly agreed by UNOPS for a company “We are The Oceans (WATO)” owned by David Kendrick’s daughter. Daisy Kendrick, then in her early twenties, had no relevant or established track record. She had, however, served as an intern in the Mission of Grenada to the United Nations, a Caribbean neighbour of Ambassador Zampolli’s Dominica.  

The 11-month project agreed by UNOPS provided a generous million dollars in salaries for Daisy Kendrick and her collaborator Jude Ower, and handsome provision for marketing and promotion and travel, apart from technical project costs.

UNOPS prides itself on its excellence in project management. It has stringent administrative and financial rules to ensure value-for-money, integrity, and accountability of  spending, and it follows rigorous diligence procedures. Its normal approval processes involve the convening of statutory committees such as an engagement committee,  a project committee and a procurement committee, to conduct peer reviews to analyse the robustness of project design, ensure risk management, and assure compliance with organisational rules.

However, the Executive Director, supported or perhaps pushed by her Deputy, was in an extraordinary hurry.  And so, UNOPS systems were put aside to enable Ms Faremo to decide by executive fiat. It also appears that senior managers such as its experienced and long-standing directors sniffed something strange,  but stayed quiet. Why?

So it came to pass that Ms Faremo authorised the use of UNOPS’s operational reserves (normally ring-fenced for business continuity and as hedge in case of unforeseen organisational crises) for the grant to WATO. This was not just unprecedented but the selection of a single grantee without due competition and vetting drove a coach-and-horses through UNOPS’s checks-and-balances.

Furthermore, the first tranche of US$3 million was rapidly disbursed on signature of the contract, without any financial guarantees being required from an unknown company with no relevant track record, for some odd activities that were not in UNOPS’s usual portfolio of expertise.

The WATO song was duly performed by the Executive Director herself at the UN General Assembly on 8 June 2017. The chamber was virtually empty which is a pity because Ms Faremo has a fine voice. But, fortunately, privileged fans had already received a personal rendition the previous evening at the nearby luxurious Millennium Hotel. Perhaps the million-dollar PR budget at WATO (funded by UNOPS) came in handy there.  Also, possibly for gushing articles that accompanied the launch.  Clicking nowadays on the link to “We are the Oceans” contained in that article takes you to WatoOceans that describes itself as an elite international air freight forwarding company.

The  project duly petered out over subsequent months. It’s development impact is not known. Was it cost effective in terms of its investment? Was its benefit sustained?   How did it fit into UNOPS’s strategy for advancing humanity? Was the grant utilised according to agreed budget heads and were all the funds accounted for? Did audit find any discrepancies around ineligible expenditures?  Were they refunded? Did WATO act as a conduit to trickle part of the UNOPS grant to secondary unauthorised beneficiaries elsewhere, including perhaps some people inside UNOPS who were so helpful in enabling this amazing project in record time?  Why did UNOPS’s Internal Audit and Investigation Group (Paul Lucas and Kelley Swift) stay quiet for so many years despite concerns raised by several UNOPS staff ?

UNOPS is not known for its transparency on substantive matters, beyond promoting its own image. Thus, on its public website, there is no policy framework or programme document under which this project was justified and neither is there an end-of-project-report nor an independent evaluation. These are industry-standard good practices. However,  the website hosts plenty of Grete Faremo’s press releases, speeches, and publicity materials that have created an impressive self-aggrandising  personality cult around her.  Heading UNOPS is also an onerous responsibility that necessitates a busy schedule of cocktail receptions and other glittering social events.

The trail does not end here. It appears that the WATO saga emboldened the UNOPS Executive Director to impose a subservient new senior leadership team structure at UNOPS, and assume special executive decision-making powers unto herself. An internal coup!

As subsequent events showed, the WATO experience was, perhaps, a trial run for a much larger sting that saw UNOPS lose at least US$ 22.19 million according to its official audit report and perhaps as much as US$60 million. This followed the creation of UNOPS’s new Sustainable Investments in Infrastructure and Innovation (S3i) initiative, whose Chief Executive was no other than Assistant Secretary-General Vitaly Vanshelboim, the erstwhile deputy of Under Secretary-General Grete Faremo.

As outlined in a previous article, UNOPS/S3i utilised more or less the exact  dodgy procedures pioneered with WATO, to siphon  US$58.8 million from its reserves via a private company, Sustainable Housing Solutions (SHS) Holdings. David Kendrick, the father of WATO’s Daisy Kendrick,  appears linked to that. Nick Provenzano, the youthful progeny of UNOPS’s Legal Counsel, is CEO of  Caribbean-based Custom Corals, an “United Nations Global Innovation Center Sustainable LLC”, and may have had a beneficial interest in decisions made around S3i, in which his father was involved.  

That there is some fire behind the smoke was indicated by the sudden departure, in December 2021, of Mr Vanshelboim on administrative leave without pay. Other accountability for possible wrong-doings, perhaps of a criminal nature, are needed. They should include Executive Director Grete Faremo herself and her Senior Leadership Team of cronies, Honoré Dainhi, James Provenzano, Nick O’Regan, and Marianne de la Touche, for their directing and enabling role in what could be the gravest case of high-level corruption at the United Nations for several decades.

Published by Mukesh Kapila

See http://www.mukeshkapila.org

22 thoughts on “‘The Big Catch’ that ensnared the United Nations Office for Project Services

  1. As expected the Executive Director Grete resigned today. Her lapdogs especially who do not have respect for UN values should follow suit. UNOPS is not a cigarrete, wine or oil brand.
    Abuse of authority, retaliation to personnel who stood up against all injustices at UNOPS should come to an end!

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  2. That is just a tip of an iceberg. If you want to want to see the real corruption in UNOPS, investigations should be extended to the Africa Region under the leadership of Honore Dainhi who in the past years used his protégé to ensure no audits were carried out in countries where corruption is rife.
    Below is one example from Sierra Leone
    😄😆🐀💰🦫💵🐒🪙
    _Shadowy Maze of flowing Cash for Projects…_
    *Mayor Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr (nee Morgan), Freetown City Council & UNOPS Trudy Morgan*

    By Awareness Times.

    The Mayor of Freetown City Council (FCC), Mrs. Yvonne Aki Sawyerr (nee Morgan), is the younger sister of Madam Trudy Morgan. Trudy Morgan in 2019, worked at Sierra Leone country office of UNOPS (United Nations Office for Project Services) as a Consultant Engineer.

    Now, during her ongoing corruption scandals, Mayor Yvonne recently released what she called “accomplishments” of 2019. They included projects implemented by partners on behalf of FCC.

    However, Cash for those projects were not given to FCC Administration but in a shadowy and complex maze, the cash from Donors were by-passed to “Implementing Partners”.

    Some of these projects, costing Hundreds of Millions of Leones, were channeled through UNOPS such as the Freetown Disaster Preparedness Project and the Freetown Emergency Recovery Project.

    It is now a proven fact that when Lara Taylor-Pearce was sitting as Auditor-General, several auditors of Audit Service Sierra Leone (ASSL) were blocked from diligently carrying out a full Audit of Mayor Yvonne Aki Sawyerr’s FCC.

    In her 2019 Audit Report, Lara Taylor-Pearce had explained that ASSL was unable to audit those projects because FCC did not make information on them available to ASSL.

    It has now emerged that Trudy Morgan, the sister of Mayor Yvonne Aki Sawyerr was deeply involved through UNOPS, on “implementing” a huge chunk of the money allocated to “Implementing Partners”.

    This means Lara Taylor-Pearce was unable to get Yvonne Aki Sawyerr to give ASSL required information on Projects managed by Trudy Morgan who is the immediate elder sister of the Mayor.

    Mayor Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr is currently deeply embedded in the worst ever corruption scandal to hit the City in the entire history of the 230 years existence of Freetown.

    As usual, the Mayor was unavailable for comments when contacted by Awareness Times.

    Investigations are continuing.

    ©️ *Awareness Times Newspaper*
    Thursday 27th January 2022 – FEEL FREE TO RESHARE.

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  3. Scandalous! This is not the UNOPS I know.
    Where is the UN heading to? No wonder the world no longer believe in multilateralism.
    UNOPS leadership should step down. This is daylight robbery.

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  4. Bravo to this fearless blogger. The witchhunt has started at UNOPS HQ in Copenhagen. Personnel were asked to spy on one another. There are shut up fees in circulation but UNOPS personnel are united more than ever.

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  5. I have enough recordings of UNOPS Senior manager bullying and scolding his subordinates. He has open hatred towards Asians and even instigated personnel in Kenya Office to write malicious emails about them. Whenever his decisions are challenged he will accuse staff of incompetence and in most cases threatened to terminate their contracts. This has been going on for years and PCG is not helping the situation because they are scared that he may influence other SLT members to abolish their function.

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  6. UNOPS S3i is nothing but a syndicate of a well connected mafia based on patronage.

    In 2020, the Governor of Ekiti State in Nigeria announced that 50 000 houses were to be constructed in Ekiti by UNOPS and SHS. How many houses are completed so far?

    The Governor achievement from this deal is the recruitment of his ‘friend’ at one of the UNOPS Country Offices in Africa on instructions from one of The Big Boys in UNOPS.

    I hope is not too late to explain why Vitaly official visits to African countries were never facilitated by UNOPS Multi – Country Offices?

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  7. While at this, investigations should be carried out to find out about who are the really shareholders of CTG. A private firm which is ranking in millions from UNOPS contracts.

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  8. Those of us old rats who know Mr Vitaly since he started his career as an arrogant Junior professional knew that trouble was ahead when he soon was declared a rising star at the parent organization he joined. Never afraid to discard those who could potentially be a threat while sucking up those he considered to be able to manipulate he fundamentally destructed the original base of UNOPS created by hardworking sincere honest professionals who were at the core of it’s existence. He discarded all the hard work done by UNOPS founders and started his own pursue of fame without upholding any of the UN fundamental principles he was bound to uphold. Having now at last be recognized as a sheer disgrace to the UN in general and UNOPS in particular one wonders how this self proclaimed ‘star’ and his partners in crime will be brought to Justice, if ever.

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    1. @PTRVL, let’s call us old dogs, rats have such a bad reputation 😉

      Don’t wonder, you know exactly how it will turn out. Grete will retire, maybe a golden watch or a nice crest but at least a nice golden handshake. She will blame everything on others, especially Vitaly, because she is a politician. She will use the remaining months in UNOPS to eliminate all and any direct threats to her. Vitaly will most likely be made the fall guy. And that’s it, a new ED will arrive, a lot of promises will be made, “we are here to help the people in need” and off we go.
      Maybe a few cosmetic structural changes, shifting some personnel, but that is all we can expect.
      The sheer problem is that when ever wrongdoing is discovered and an honest colleague is willing to speak out, it goes without any protection.
      Maybe this forum/blog will provide a platform where whistleblowers can present their knowledge without being in danger of being crucified.
      We all know what happens when senior staff is being accused of wrongdoing, it is denying, cover up, search for and elimination of the whistleblower and intimidation of the rest of us.
      Transparency, self-reflection and honesty have never been the strengths of UNOPS, there is no will and moral acumen to live up to mistakes.
      Jan Mattsonn was not always an easy guy to work with but at least he was straight forward, he could take a hard word and he managed without having a bunch of cronies and henchmen.

      At the moment it is very quiet here in the corridors in Copenhagen, but behind some plants and shelves one can see the inquisition lurking.

      Sempre Fi

      J.

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  9. If only walls could talk! But grateful that UNOPS audit department kept doing its work despite all the threats and harassment from SLT members.

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    1. David Kendrick is the beneficial owner of BAU SHS an entity with zero track record and Myra SHS all of which have received millions of dollars from UNOPS authorised by Vitaly Vashelboim. There is evidence in black and white where these millions were transferred into David Kendricks private accounts paid on numerous occasions by Bernard Sumner (his FD) along with payments to Daisy Kendricks WatoOceans and Myra SHS.

      This seems an incredible use of UNOPS reserves

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    2. Vitaly Vashelboim authorised US$58.8 million from its reserves to a private company, Sustainable Housing Solutions (SHS) Holdings. David Kendrick, the father of WATO’s Daisy Kendrick, appears linked to that and was established by Bernard Sumner but little or no investments seem to have been made in any housing ~ will these funds ever be found or justice prevail

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  10. David Kendrick is the beneficial owner of SHS and BUA and has interests in Myra SHS which came out of the failed ponzi scheme Abraaj where millions were misused and should be also investigated. In addition Daisy Kendrick is the beneficial owner of Daiken where UN funds have been gone to.

    We have written proof where millions of dollars have been misappropriated by DK into his private accounts and orchestrated by his so called FD Bernard Sumner

    This is an example of UNOPS being rotten to the core

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    1. Interesting to note that was S3i was created to siphon money to SHS. How can donors money (so called UNOPS reserves) be dished out to one private company?

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      1. It beggars belief as money was siphoned to SHS and Myra SHS from (Vitaly) S3i ie David Kendrick. His lacky Bernard Sumner then transferred it to David Kendrick and Daisy Kendrick (Daiken) private accounts without any invoices. When UNOPS asked to see the accounts/transfers they refused. We have all the accounts and transfers

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  11. Write to saveunopsiicas@gmail.com
    A US lawyer is on standby to help all UNOPS personnel for wrongful termination. Please spread the word to ask UNOPS IICA contractors who were discriminated against, retaliated against, owed money, wrongfully terminated, racially against to write to this email. A class action is being formed.

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  12. This is not new.. UNOPS has its public persona and its not so public but well known corrupt face…you need to come to the African offices to see the kind of rot that is being facilitated…by all manner of unqualified expatriate staff.

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