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AP Exclusive: UN whistleblower targeted in misconduct probe
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AP Exclusive: UN whistleblower targeted in misconduct probe

AP Exclusive: UN whistleblower targeted in misconduct probe
Photo Credit: AP Photo/Jamey Keaten
This Monday, April 8, 2019 photo shows the headquarters building of UNAIDS in Geneva. Documents obtained by The Associated Press reveal the U.N.’s AIDS agency is grappling with previously unreported allegations of financial and sexual misconduct involving a staffer who went public in 2018 with claims she was sexually assaulted by a top deputy. (AP Photo/Jamey Keaten)

AP Exclusive: UN whistleblower targeted in misconduct probe

A year after claims of sexual assault and harassment rocked the U.N. agency that fights HIV, UNAIDS looked like it might be on the mend. The top deputy facing the allegations had departed, the leader who presided over the troubled institution announced plans to bow out early and managers vowed to correct the agency's "toxic" atmosphere in a scathing probe.

But the upheaval is not over.

Confidential documents obtained by The Associated Press show UNAIDS is grappling with previously unreported allegations of financial and sexual misconduct involving Martina Brostrom, who went public last March with claims that one of the organization's top officials assaulted her in 2015.

As part of a preliminary internal inquiry, investigators for the World Health Organization, which oversees UNAIDS, wrote that they had found "evidence" that Brostrom and her former supervisor may have taken part in "fraudulent practices and misuse of travel funds," the documents show.

The inquiry was put on hold in late 2016 after Brostrom asked for whistleblower protection in a formal complaint to UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibe alleging that Dr. Luiz Loures, one of Sidibe's deputies, forcibly kissed her and tried to drag her out of a Bangkok hotel elevator. In a statement that did not identify Brostrom by name, UNAIDS said the investigation was suspended "to safeguard the integrity of a potentially related sexual harassment case."

Edward Flaherty, a lawyer for Brostrom, said she had no knowledge of any such inquiry.

"She is unaware, and has not been advised, of any such investigation and denies any assertion of impropriety," Flaherty said of the Swedish employee.

The ongoing turmoil is a damaging distraction for an agency at the center of multibillion-dollar, taxpayer-funded U.N. efforts to end the global AIDS epidemic by 2030. The virus affects more than 37 million people worldwide and kills more than 900,000 people every year.

The allegations of sexual assault and managerial mismanagement prompted Sweden to announce last year it would suspend its funding to the agency. The Scandinavian country is UNAIDS' No. 2 donor, providing more than $30 million in 2017.

"Anytime there are claims about misuse of funds, it's incredibly damaging to an agency's credibility," said Devi Sridhar, a professor of global public health at the University of Edinburgh.

"UNAIDS goes into countries to protect those who are marginalized, including sex workers, drug users, poor communities — to advocate for AIDS prevention and treatment," Sridhar said. "How can they do that when it's widely known there's an internal culture that permits bad behavior?"

Brostrom's complaint against Loures prompted two inquiries — a U.N. investigation that concluded there was insufficient evidence to support her claims and an independent assessment of the agency's management that found a culture of impunity and "defective leadership."

Amid the resulting criticism, Sidibe announced he would step down in June, six months early. Loures left after his contract expired last March.

Brostrom, who some credited with sparking a #MeToo movement at the U.N., told Sidibe in November 2016 that her work environment became increasingly fraught immediately after the alleged assault by Loures. Brostrom was working as a technical adviser in UNAIDS' Office of Special Initiatives when the problems with Loures began.

"LL started to explicitly block my work, excluded me from participation in key meetings in areas in which I was leading and blocked my requests for duty travel," she wrote in an email that was provided to the AP. She said she became "the victim of a malicious and anonymous defamation campaign in early 2016."

According to internal documents reviewed by the AP, the U.N. ethics office and other senior UNAIDS officials received a series of anonymous emails in early 2016 alleging misconduct by Brostrom's former supervisor, prompting the preliminary internal review that ultimately grew to include examining Brostrom's own conduct.

Brostrom told officials that immediately after the alleged attack by Loures, she called her mother, a friend and her then-supervisor to tell them what happened. Brostrom's mother told WHO investigators that her daughter "was very upset and she was crying and she didn't think that such a thing could happen to her."

When Brostrom went public with her story, two other women described similar encounters with Loures, who denies all the allegations.

"I have always said that the allegations made against me are false," Loures told the AP in an email Saturday. Loures said Brostrom's accusations against him were only made after he took steps to investigate the misconduct of her former male supervisor.

"I found (they) had not taken permission for travel on several occasions and had cheated the system," he said.

Brostrom and her former supervisor are both currently on leave from UNAIDS for undisclosed reasons. The WHO investigation into them remains preliminary.

In the preliminary report obtained by the AP, which described discussions with both Brostrom and the supervisor regarding potential misconduct, officials noted that they reviewed an array of documents, including more than 1,900 emails.

In one confidential memo provided to the AP, WHO investigators said they found evidence that Brostrom and her ex-boss "may have engaged in unprofessional conduct," including the misuse of funds. The two were reproached for "abusing U.N. privileges by requesting special U.N. rates when booking hotels for the purpose of having sexual encounters." The preliminary review found one instance where Brostrom and her colleague apparently told hotel management "to forge an invoice" to claim their personal costs were business-related, the memo said.

WHO investigators also wrote that they found evidence suggesting the pair routinely used their work email accounts "to exchange messages with explicit sexual language, profanity and nudity."

WHO's initial investigation concluded "such conduct may have exposed UNAIDS to high reputational risk" and referred the matter to UNAIDS to determine "the best course of action."

The July 2018 memo was marked "confidential" and sent from WHO's Office of Internal Oversight Services to Gunilla Carlsson, deputy executive director at UNAIDS.

The sexual assault and harassment case against Loures has been reopened and is now in the hands of the U.N. Office of Internal Oversight Services following criticism of how it was handled by UNAIDS and WHO.

The investigation into potential misconduct by Brostrom and her former supervisor will resume "as soon as appropriate," UNAIDS spokeswoman Sophie Barton-Knott said in an email.

The lingering inquiries mean UNAIDS' new leader will inherit unfinished business that casts a shadow over donor support.

Global health expert Sridhar called for UNAIDS' management to be overhauled.

"I wouldn't give up hope on UNAIDS, but there needs to be a new leadership to change the culture there," she said. "People tend to behave badly when they think that kind of corruption is permitted."

Sweden's foreign ministry said it was not planning to restore funding to UNAIDS imminently.

The U.S. is UNAIDS' biggest donor, supplying the agency with more than $82 million in 2017.

_____

Cheng reported from London.

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Local News

  • There is a chance of rain and thunderstorms for Athens and northeast Georgia. The threat of severe weather, apparently diminishing overnight, nonetheless leads several school districts in south Georgia—Albany among them—to cancel classes for the day.  From Channel 2 Action News… There are several metro Atlanta counties under a Tornado Watch early Friday morning as a line of storms and rain move into the area. Severe Weather Team 2 has been tracking the system all week as it moved through the country. The Tornado Watch has been issued for Troup, Meriwether, Pike and Upson counties.
  • The University of Georgia gymnastics team begins competition in the NCAA Finals: the Gym Dogs are taking part in the tournament set for this weekend in Fort Worth Texas.  “We’re peaking at the right time,” says Georgia coach Courtney Kupets Carter. Oklahoma is ranked first going into the tournament. UGA is eighth.
  • A Newton County fine arts teacher faces two felonies for allegedly sexually assaulting students last month, authorities said. Christopher Ehren Matyas, born in 1980, of Covington, was arrested Thursday and charged with two counts of sexual assault by persons with supervisory or disciplinary authority, according to a sheriff’s office arrest report. He was a teacher at Alcovy High School, and both school employees and students reported the alleged sexual assaults on March 22, according to the police report obtained by Channel 2 Action News. Newton County School District spokeswoman Sherri Davis sent the news station a statement that said, in part:  “School officials launched an investigation and immediately reported the allegations to local law enforcement. Mr. Matyas was removed from the classroom setting and placed on leave during the course of the investigation. He will not return to the classroom.” He’s out of jail on a $16,700 bond, records show.
  • A White County judge denies bond for Mitch Simpson. The former Cleveland car dealer closed his auto lot earlier this year; he was arrested in March on theft charges.From WSB TV…   A north Georgia car dealer was denied bond Thursday in what’s now being described as a more than $2 million fraud and theft case, prompted by a Channel 2 investigation. Mitch Simpson was arrested and charged with three counts of felony theft by conversion late last month. They were tied to unpaid state vehicle taxes in which nearly 60 buyers say they paid Mitch Simpson Motors for their purchases, but their TAVT taxes were left unpaid and their titles were never delivered. Those purchases spanned a time period between late 2018 and early 2019, right before the Cleveland dealership shut its doors, and the buyers came to Channel 2 after unsuccessful attempts to contact Simpson. Soon the Georgia Department of Revenue began working with the White County Sheriff’s Office and state Attorney General’s Office to investigate the case. On Thursday, the Georgia DOR filed two additional theft charges in the case and argued against bond in Simpson’s case. A prosecutor revealed a much larger, complex case while highlighting Simpson’s 2011 federal conviction in a car loan scam. He served probation in the case, while several other co-defendants went to federal prison. In addition to $385,000 in unpaid vehicle taxes that were collected, prosecutors say Simpson failed to pay multiple floor planning companies $780,000 for vehicles they financed. Those companies essentially act as a bank for car dealerships, lending them the money to provide inventory on car lots. In a third tier of the ongoing investigation, prosecutors allege Simpson double and sometimes triple-financed the same vehicle through the lenders, pocketing about $1.3 million. Simpson’s attorney hit back at those allegations after a state investigator told the court Simpson’s personal bank records had been subpoenaed but not yet analyzed. Search warrants netted titles and documents from Simpson’s Habersham County home, as investigators say evidence was taken out of the car dealership building. “He has a compelling story, and there are certainly issues with the state’s case,” defense attorney Jeff Wolff told Channel 2 investigative reporter Nicole Carr. Wolff highlighted in court that Simpson simply managed the namesake lot and that it was owned by his former in-laws.  No one else has been charged in the case, and employees of McGregor Financial, the dealership’s in-house financing company, have cooperated with investigators. They’ve maintained their role was financing and Simpson had access to accounts and paid the bills, according to investigators’ testimony. “It was an underfunded business,” Wolff said. “And that’s a large gap between an underfunded business and criminal enterprise.” About a half-dozen friends and family members served as character witnesses for Simpson, arguing against a notion that he’d serve as a flight risk in this case. Perhaps his strongest supporter was his 86-year-old mother, Elsie Hogan, who said Simpson never had a desire to leave his north Georgia roots, even when he faced trouble in his earlier federal case. “He says he’ll never fly until he gets his wings and goes to heaven,” Hogan said. Hogan also revealed she’d used yard sale money to pay for Simpson’s heart medication while he was in jail. She pushed back against any suggestion that he’d profited from stolen car lot funds. “He has no money at all. He has nothing. He has nothing, sir,” Hogan said, answering Wolff’s questions. Nonetheless, Superior Court Judge Joy Parks ruled against bond in the case, citing the complexity and seriousness of the newly-revealed allegations. A grand jury is set to convene in June. The good news for Simpson’s car buyers is that they are receiving their titles. Fifty-three of the car buyers affected are from Georgia, and the state says it worked with those floor planning companies to get the missing titles. “We've been able to obtain 52 (titles) with the help of the Attorney General's Office. It's been a great win for us,” said Josh Waites, director of special investigations for the Georgia Department of Revenue. The department says it continues to receive complaints tied to purchases from Simpson. Outside of court, car buyers Paul Cleiman and Justin Mathis thanked Channel 2 for exposing the case. Both men have either received titles or expect them any day after four months of uncertainty. “It’s been a long battle,” said Mathis. “We appreciate you, Nicole. We wouldn’t be here today without you.” 'I don’t think it was getting any attention until you stepped in and got the Department of Revenue involved,” Cleiman said. “We need justice, and I think that’s been served today for now.”

Bulldog News

  • ATHENS — Georgia baseball stayed atop the SEC standings and completed a three-game sweep of Missouri on Saturday afternoon. The No. 5-ranked Bulldogs (33-8, 13-5 SEC) had three pitchers combine on a one-hitter in 4-2 win over the No. 21-ranked Tigers (26-15-1, 7-10-1).   Brought our brooms to the park today! #DawgsOnTop | #GoDawgs pic.twitter.com/FNkeNPzd1C — Georgia Baseball (@BaseballUGA) April 20, 2019   Tony Locey (7-0) got the start and the win, allowing two runs on one hit with five strikeouts and five walks before giving way to Ryan Webb (one inning) and Zack Kristofak (5 saves). “Tony Locey was big for us today, I think their hitters went 1-for-19 off him,” UGA baseball coach Scott Stricklin said. “He’s just so hard to hit — he’s throwing 96 miles an hour..” Georgia, which has won five straight, opened the scoring in the first inning when Riley King doubled, moved to second on Aaron Schunk’s infield single and scored on a wild pitch. LJ Talley hit a two-run home run in the bottom of the third inning to make it 3-0. Missouri closed the gap with two runs in the top of the fourth, but the Bulldogs added an insurance run in the fifth when Talley scored on a passed ball. Talley reached base on a walk, moved to second on a balk and was at third on a wild pitch. “The goal right now is that we want to win an SEC Championship,” Talley said. “Coach says, ‘Great teams sweep, good teams will be ok with winning the series.’   So, it was a good thing that we swept.” Georgia baseball returns to action on Tuesday night in Atlanta against Georgia Tech at SunTrust Park. UGA then plays at Mississippi State in a battle of Bulldogs for a weekend series. Georgia baseball stories Slap-happy Georgia outlasts Clemson in 20-inning marathon Miraculous recoveries spark Bulldogs baseball program Bulldogs sting Yellow Jackets in 12-2 blowout at Foley Field   The post WATCH: No. 5 Georgia baseball atop SEC standings, completes Missouri sweep appeared first on DawgNation.
  • Action and Football pictures from the 2019 G-Day game in Sanford Stadium 
  • ATHENS — Offense, defense and special teams, there was something for everyone who turned out at the Georgia football G-Day Game. DawgNation beat writers Mike Griffith and Chip Towers broke down the Bulldogs’ spring showcase. The Saturday night Sanford Stadium discussion debated the game MVPs, as well as areas where Georgia has improved the most, and areas the Bulldogs still need to get better. RELATED: Eric Stokes experiences good and bad at cornerback WATCH: Kirby Smart shares thoughts on G-Day Game Georgia football lands major commitment on G-Day Stock report from Georgia G-Day Game Instant analysis of Georgia football G-Day Game Georgia football DawgNation breakdown The post WATCH: Georgia G-Day Game breakdown with Mike Griffith and Chip Towers appeared first on DawgNation.
  • ATHENS — Eric Stokes made the play of the game, was probably the defensive player of the game and drew strong praise from his head coach not just because of what he did in the G-Day Game, but what he did all spring with the Bulldogs. Yet all the junior cornerback could think about Saturday as he got ready to leave Sanford Stadium was the one that got away. Well, that and what he was having for dinner. That’d be Beanie Weanies as he suited up with the Black Team that lost 22-17. The winners from the Red Team were to dine on steak and lobster Saturday night. “That’s going to be very tough, knowing that we had the lead most of the game and they came back in the end,” Stokes said of his Saturday night fare. “But I blame that all on me because I was the one that gave up the touchdown that put them up. So that’s on me. I should never allow those things.” Stokes got beat on what was indeed the decisive play of the game. Jeremiah “J.J.” Holloman, a lifelong friend and fellow Newton County resident, got open on a post route, hauled in the pass from backup quarterback Stetson Bennett and turned it into a 43-yard touchdown that gave the Red Team a 19-17 lead with 8:09 to play. Georgia cornerback Eric Stokes wrestles away the ball from wideout J.J. Holloman and turned it into a 39-yard interception return for a touchdown on the third play of Saturday’s G-Day Game. (Curtis Compton/AJC) Such is the life of a cornerback. The touchdown allowed ruined what otherwise had been an incredibly productive day for Stokes. In fact, it could not have gotten off to a better start. The primary objective for the defense this spring and for the 2019 season is to create “havoc plays.” Interceptions, pass-breakups, sacks, tackles for loss and defensive touchdowns are something coach Kirby Smart believes the Bulldogs have not produced enough of the last couple of seasons. So there’s been a very pointed initiative to show marked improvement in that regard this season. “That’s all we wanted: havoc, havoc, havoc,” Stokes said. “Havoc can lead to a lot of things. We wanted to create some havoc and keep the score down. We talked about that all week and that’s exactly what we did.” Havoc is exactly what Stokes created right out of the chute on Saturday. On the day’s third play from scrimmage, with the Jake Fromm-led Red Team facing third-and-three from the 37, Stokes jumped Holloman’s slant route, snatched the ball at the same time Holloman did, wrestled it away, then returned it 39 yards for a touchdown. Two minutes into the game, Stokes’ Black Team led 7-0. “J.J. slipped and that enabled me to look at the quarterback,” Stokes said. “I really shouldn’t, but since he slipped, I felt like I could take a little gamble. Luckily the gamble paid off. So I was just glad I was the one who ended up with the ball.” Predictably, Stokes was absolutely mobbed by the Black Team coaches and players as he came to the sideline. “They absolutely loved it,” Stokes said. “A lot of hands on my helmet. It was amazing. I’m thinking, ‘this is a great way to start.’ But then a couple of plays humbled me real quick.” Holloman would have the last laugh with the late TD. “I really don’t know what happened,” Stokes said of the decisive play. “I’ve got to go back and look at film because that’s the play that’s eating me alive right now.” Holloman was more than happy to fill in the blanks for his buddy. “That was a double move, so it was just a win situation for me,” Holloman said with a grin. “I got him on a good move and I was open coming across the middle and Stetson saw me. He let the ball go and I made the play.” Nevertheless, Smart had nothing but praise for Stokes. Getting beat down the middle is the cost sometimes of being playing corner. It should never happen against a true opponent, but it doesn’t erase all the strides Smart has seen Stokes make. “He certainly made a good play to start us off today,” Smart said. “I thought that was a good fight for the ball and he scored with it when he got it. He’s a kid that has come a long way from a guy that wasn’t really a DB coming out of high school to an athlete that is very conscientious about doing things the right way. When you teach Stokes something, he listens and applies it. When you combine that ability with talent, you’ve got a pretty good player.” Stokes knows he good. He just wants to be great and he knows what that looks like. He’s following Deandre Baker at corner and Baker didn’t allow a TD the last two seasons. That’s not including G-Day, of course. “I remember all the bad plays. I barely remember the good plays,” Stokes said. “That’s more of what I’m looking at. I know I gave up a third-and-four, a third-and-five, where we could’ve been off the field. And then, of course, I gave up a touchdown. So that’s more how I’m looking at it. I’m thinking of all of the bad instead of all the good.” Fortunately, for him, there were more of the latter. The post Georgia’s Eric Stokes experiences the bad of good of playing cornerback during G-Day appeared first on DawgNation.
  • ATHENS — Kirby Smart’s initial thoughts on the G-Day Game indicate the fourth-year head coach felt it was a win for Georgia football. “I’m excited about the tight nature of the game and the back and forth battle,” Smart said on Saturday afternoon. “I like it when both quarterbacks get to compete and do two-minute (offenses) and the guys get to play, so that was really good from a competitive standpoint.” The Red Team — made up of the first-team offense and second-team defense —scored a 22-17 victory in the intrasquad scrimmage before an announced crowd of 52,630 at Sanford Stadium. RELATED: Instant analysis of Georgia football G-Day Game Georgia football coach Kirby Smart opening comments   It was an impressive display of support considering the 48-degree temperatures and intermittent rain before and during the game in Athens. Smart joked he wasn’t even sure if he would come to observe a game in such conditions and thanks the Bulldogs’ fans for their support. Some of the best news of the day, Smart said, was that none of the players sustained any major injuries. “I got to see the look in some guys’ eyes, that they were out there competing and playing hard, that part was good,” Smart said. “No major injuries, which is also good.” There were 115 plays in the scrimmage consisting of 83 passes and 32 run plays. Smart indicated part of the imbalance had to do with the two-minute style of offenses run at the end of both halves by both teams, which are passing oriented. Third-year starting quarterback Jake Fromm was 14-of-29 passing for 116 yards with a touchdown and an interception, UGA keeping most of its offense under wraps. Backup quarterbacks Stetson Bennett and D’Wan Mathis both impressed. Bennett, the more seasoned of the two with a year at UGA and a year in junior college under his belt, was a combined 12-of-23 passing for 210 yards with a touchdown splitting his time between the first-team and second-team offense. Mathis, a freshman early enrollee, was 15-of-28 passing for 113 yards with an interception, but also, a 39-yard TD reception on a reverse pass. Tailback Brian Herrien was the total yardage leader, the senior carrying seven times for 25 yards and catching three passes for 50 yards and a touchdown. RELATED: Hard-charging Herrien among biggest gainers in UGA stock report D’Andre Swift flashed his explosive open-field skills with three carries for 39 yards and three catches for 17 yards. Georgia tight end Charlie Woerner and receiver Trey Blount split team honors with five catches, Woerner with 44 yards and Blount with 69 yards. J.J. Holloman, the team’s leading returning receiver, had three catches for 54 yards and a touchdown. Georgia football coach Kirby Smart takes questions The post WATCH: Kirby Smart’s initial thoughts on Georgia football G-Day Game appeared first on DawgNation.