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UN Board Questions Colombian Member

May 7, 1998

UNITED NATIONS (AP) _ Colombia’s federal prosecutor, who once defended a top official implicated in his nation’s biggest drug scandal, has refused to resign from a U.N. board set up to combat narcotics trafficking, sources said Wednesday.

U.N. officials cite a possible conflict of interest as long as Alfonso Gomez Mendez wears the two hats of federal prosecutor and board member.

Gomez was elected in 1996 to a five-year term on the International Narcotics Control Board _ one of the most influential and secretive U.N. organizations.

Soon after he began sitting on the board last year, Gomez was appointed Colombia’s federal prosecutor, replacing Alfonso Valdivieso, an anti-drug crusader whose investigation nearly toppled President Ernesto Samper.

The 1961 treaty establishing the U.N. board states that members ``shall not hold any position″ which would ``impair their impartiality.″ That clause has generally been invoked to bar entry anyone holding national posts in their home governments.

Sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the board president, Hamid Ghodse asked Gomez to step down shortly after he became federal prosecutor in July. Gomez then refused and Ghodse referred the matter to the U.N. legal office

In a January 6 letter, the chief U.N. legal officer, Hans Corell, said ``it would appear″ that holding the prosecutor’s post would constitute a conflict of interest.

Corell recommended the issue be put before the board at its meeting late this month in Vienna. Nine of the 13 board members would have to agree to dismiss Gomez.

Before assuming the prosecutor’s job, Gomez successfully defended Rodrigo Pardo, a former foreign minister suspected of helping cover up evidence of drug money donations to Samper’s campaign.

After taking office as federal prosecutor, Gomez split up the investigative team that had put more than a dozen congressmen, a former attorney general and the comptroller in prison for taking money from Cali cartel drug traffickers.

Gomez has denied sabotaging any cases to protect Samper and says he has stepped up the investigations.

The U.N. board works with governments to determine what drugs should be declared illegal. It also helps regulate ``precursors″ _ chemicals which are not banned but can be used to manufacture illicit drugs.

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