UN Denies Conflict in Appointing Environment Chief

The United Nations denied Monday that the appointment of a new environment director was linked to his presence on a jury that awarded U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan a $500,000 environmental prize.

Achim Steiner, a German with considerable experience in conservation, was appointed by Annan to head the Nairobi-based U.N. Environment Program (UNEP) in March.

Steiner had served as a judge for the Dubai-based Zayed International Prize for the Environment, awarded to Annan in December.

“Mr. Steiner was appointed after a long and exhaustive search,” said U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric.

“We were aware of all the facts and the secretary-general still felt that he was the best person to lead the organization.”

Steiner’s appointment, Dujarric said, was not connected to conferring the prize to Annan, who was contributing the money to charity.

Dujarric did not reply to a question about whether Deputy Secretary-General Mark Malloch Brown had put Steiner’s name on the list. But he acknowledged that Steiner’s name had not been submitted by the German government to succeed Klaus Toepfer, another German, but was added to a short list later.

The final decision was Annan’s, after consulting with his office and outside environmental groups, Dujarric said.

Annan has said he would start a foundation for agriculture and girls’ education in Africa after he leaves office on Dec. 31, 2006. Questions about a possible conflict-of-interest were first raised in The Financial Times on Saturday.

Steiner, 44, takes up his post in the Nairobi-based UNEP in June. He is currently director-general of the World Conservation Union, the world’s largest environmental network with over 1,000 members in 140 countries.

The Zayed International Prize for the Environment has been awarded every two years since 2001 by the United Arab Emirates. Previous winners included former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and the British Broadcasting Corporation.

The chairman of the jury that awarded the prize was Toepfer, Steiner’s predecessor. Others, in addition to Steiner, listed on the prize’s Web site, included Yolanda Kakabadse, the former World Conservation Union president; David King, chief scientist for the British government, Mario Molina, a winner of the 1995 Nobel Prize for Chemistry; and Yoriko Kawaguchi, a former Japanese foreign minister.

Source: Evelyn Leopold, Reuters