By Ken Dilanian, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON — Two United Nations agencies spent millions in U.S. money on substandard Afghanistan construction projects, including a central bank without electricity and a bridge at risk of "life threatening" collapse, according to an investigation by U.S. federal agents.
The U.N. ran a "quick impact" infrastructure program from 2003 to 2006 under a $25 million grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development. The U.N. delivered shoddy work, diverted money to other countries and then stonewalled U.S. efforts to figure out what happened, according to a report by USAID's inspector general obtained by USA TODAY under the Freedom of Information Act.
REPORT: Read full investigation
"Due to the refusal of the United Nations to cooperate with this investigation, questions remain unanswered," the report says.
Federal prosecutors in New York City were forced to drop criminal and civil cases because the U.N. officials have immunity, according to the report. USAID has scaled back its dealings with the U.N. and hired a collection agency to seek $7.6 million back, Deputy Administrator James Bever said. The aid agency hasn't heeded its inspector general's request to sever all ties.
"There are certain cases where working with the U.N. is the only option available," Bever said in an e-mail.
The quick-impact program was designed to demonstrate results and promote confidence in the reconstruction effort, but the report suggests it did the opposite.
One U.N. employee told investigators that "about $10 million of USAID grant money went to projects in other countries, to include Sudan, Haiti, Sri Lanka and Dubai." That witness said the Afghanistan country director for the U.N. Office for Project Services (UNOPS), which served as the contractor on the project for the U.N. Development Program (UNDP), spent about $200,000 in U.S. money to renovate his guesthouse. Witness names were withheld by USAID.