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Ex-wives claim U.N. officials flout court orders to pay child support

June 10, 1997

UNITED NATIONS (AP) _ Some U.N. officials are hiding behind international law and U.N. personnel policy to avoid paying child support and alimony to families they abandon in the United States, a New York congressman has charged.

Rep. Rick Lazio, R-N.Y., has sponsored legislation that would withhold $10 million in backpayments to the United Nations until the organization cracks down on deadbeat staffers.

``The United Nations has been touted as the symbol of international justice and human rights,″ Lazio told reporters Monday. ``Ironically, this organization’s own restrictive salary and pension policies deny families of their own staff such basic rights and spousal and child support.″

Diana Boernstein of the U.N. Family Rights Committee said her group has received about 40 letters from ex-wives of U.N. employees complaining that their husbands have ignored U.S. court orders to pay support.

In some cases, husbands cite diplomatic immunity, which protects them from civil and criminal prosecution, she said. Others who are not covered by diplomatic immunity hide behind international agreements that make U.N. salaries immune from garnishments, she said.

``It is a perversion to use diplomatic immunity against family members,″ said Irene Philippi, an Argentine formerly married to a senior U.N. official.

She asked that her husband’s name not be used ``because I don’t want my children to see his name on the front pages.″ But she claimed she spent $100,000 in legal fees since 1993 to get her ex-husband to pay support for their two children.

Boernstein said the problem is not restricted to the United States and that her organization has received inquiries from ex-wives of U.N. staffers in Canada, Austria and elsewhere.

Efforts to contact officials in the U.N. Department of Human Resources for comment were unsuccessful. U.N. officials have said in the past, however, that the problem is complicated because husbands who are not U.S. citizens sometimes obtain conflicting orders from foreign courts absolving them of responsibilities.

They said the United Nations is considering changes in its rules to enable ex-wives of retired staff to obtain information on their former husband’s pensions.

Margaret Kofele-Bessem-Asu said her former husband, who works for the court that prosecutes genocide cases in Rwanda, had been delinquent in child support payments since 1993.

In September 1994, the New York Supreme Court reduced his child support payments from $275 a week to $49 per week. She claimed the judgment was based on misleading information but was unable to get details from the United Nations on her husband’s salary to appeal.

Three years ago, the United Nations changed its policy against releasing salary information on its employees.

But Lazio and others complain the U.N. headquarters is slow in responding to court orders to release salary information.

That results in lengthy delays that can cost ex-wives thousands of dollars in legal fees, Lazio said.

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