UNITED NATIONS (AFP) - UN employees are expected to issue an unprecedented vote of no confidence in Secretary-General Kofi Annan, union sources say, after he pardoned the body`s top oversight official over a series of allegations.
The UN staff union, in what officials said was the first vote of its kind in the more than 50-year history of the United Nations, was set to approve a resolution withdrawing support for the embattled Annan and senior UN management.
Annan has been in the line of fire over a high-profile series of scandals including controversy about a UN aid programme that investigators say allowed deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein to embezzle billions of dollars.
Staffers said the trigger for the no-confidence measure was an announcement this week that Annan had pardoned the UN`s top oversight official, who was facing allegations of favouritism and sexual harassment.
The union had requested a formal probe into the behaviour of the official, Dileep Nair, after employees accused him of harassing members of his staff and violating UN rules on the hiring and promotion of workers.
Top UN spokesman Fred Eckhard announced on Tuesday that Nair had been exonerated by Annan "after a thorough review" by the UN`s senior official in charge of management, Catherine Bertini.
Annan underlined that he "had every confidence" in Nair, Eckhard said, but UN employees ridiculed the decision and claimed that investigators had not questioned the staff union, which first raised the complaints in April.
"This was a whitewash, pure and simple," Guy Candusso, a senior member of the staff union, told AFP.
Candusso noted that Eckhard`s declaration to the press had said that "no further action was necessary in the matter."
But in a letter sent to the union, a copy of which was obtained by AFP, Annan`s chief of staff Iqbal Riza said Nair had been "advised that he should exercise caution" in future to "minimise the risk of negative perception."
In a resolution set to be adopted on Friday, the union said Riza`s statement "substantiates the contention of the staff that there was impropriety" and that there exists "a lack of integrity, particularly at the higher levels of the organisation."
The draft resolution, also obtained exclusively by AFP, calls on the union president to "convey this vote of no confidence to the secretary general."
Staffers who asked not to be named, afraid that speaking out could damage their future prospects in the United Nations, said the Nair decision was an example of corruption by Annan and his senior staff.
They noted that Riza, UN undersecretary general for information Shashi Tharoor and other top officials had served directly under Annan at least since 1994, when he was head of UN peacekeeping operations.
At the time, the United Nations was widely criticised for failing to stop the Rwanda genocide that left 800,000 people dead, even though UN peacekeepers were on the ground -- a catastrophe for which Annan has publicly apologised.
Annan could not be reached for immediate comment. He is currently in Africa on a high-profile mission aimed at ending the long-running civil war in Sudan.
The latest crisis comes as Annan faces unprecedented calls to resign over the burgeoning scandal about "oil-for-food," a UN aid scheme that US investigators say allowed Saddam to siphon off billions of dollars.
The programme has tainted longtime UN officials like Benon Sevan, who oversaw the operation and is now accused of pocketing Saddam`s money in exchange for turning a blind eye to the Iraqi dictator`s abuses.
Annan stands accused of obstructing US investigators, especially since his hand-picked official Paul Volcker this week rejected calls from the US Senate to turn over documents from the programme and waive UN staff immunity.
Eckhard, his spokesman, on Thursday said that Annan is expected to serve out his term, which ends in 2006.
Veteran UN staff said this was the first time in history that employees had risen up en masse to make a vote of no confidence in a sitting secretary general.
"Kofi Annan is surrounded by corruption, a gang of criminals responsible for some of the worst things that happened to mankind in the 20th century," said one angry staffer, referring to the Rwanda massacres.
"It`s possible that he doesn`t know directly what has gone on," said the employee, who has worked for the United Nations for two decades. "But that`s no excuse."