UN Libya envoy accepts £35,000 monthly salary from UAE

United Nations Libya envoy Bernardino Leon accepts £35,000 monthly salary for job offered by United Arab Emirates as director general of its “diplomatic academy”

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Special Representative of the Secretary General for Libya and Head of United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) Bernardino Leon speaks at the Palais des Nations in Geneva on August 11, 2015

The United Nations Libya envoy Bernardino Leon is set to be director general of United Arab Emirates (UAE) diplomatic academy which he is expected to train envoys of one of the Arab countries most involved in the Libyan crisis.

The United Nations special representative in Libya dealt with whole summer negotiating a £35,000-a-month job with a Gulf State that backs one side in the civil war that he wanted to end.

Leon, the UN peace mediator and a former Spanish foreign minister, was offered the job in June by the UAE to head its diplomatic academy, Britain’s Guardian newspaper reported.

The UEA declared on Wednesday that Leon would take over as head of the diplomatic academy. The academy, state-backed think-tank, was founded last year to reinforce the UAE’s foreign policy, strategic relations and train its diplomats.

Veteran German diplomat Martin Kobler was appointed as Leon’s successor and would take over mediating stalled Libya peace talks in following days, the UN said on Wednesday.

"The leadership transition will take place in the coming days," UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement, adding that he was "grateful for [Leon's] dedicated service and effective leadership."

Last Friday, the UN Security Council approved Kobler’s appointment as head of the UN political mission in Libya. Leon will end his previous post on Friday.

Leon’s new job in the UAE called into question his impartiality as the UN’s chief peacemaker.

Five months after he was appointed as the mediator in Libya, Leon sent an email on December 31, 2014 to the UAE’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed from his personal email account.

Leon said in the email that due to the slow progress of peace talks, Europe and the United States were asking for another plan that is “a classical peace conference...This is, in my opinion, a worse option than a political dialogue...because it will treat both sides as equal actors.”

“I can help and control the process while I am there. However, as you know I am not planning to stay for a long time … I am seen as biased in favour of HOR [House of Representatives]. I advised the US, UK and EU to work with you,” he told the UAE’s foreign minister.

Martin Kobler, pictured on April 19, 2015, will replace Bernardino Leon as the UN envoy for Libya (AFP/Archive)

Leon denied any conflict of interest saying that he had wanted to leave his UN post by September 1.  

Leon said he produced a “fair proposal” to end the war and had “many similar communications with other countries supporting the other Libyan camp, in a similar spirit. I’m sure in different occasions I also told them that they can ‘count on me’. My job is to build trust with all of them, inside and outside Libya.”

"The only defence I have against these attacks is my work," he wrote in an email to the Guardian.

"As I said before, read my proposals, the agreement and the government proposal. It has been considered by the Libyans from both camps as a fair proposal."

Emails revealed that Leon was offered the job as director general in the academy in June. Following step was increasing his housing allowance a month later. In August, Leon said he would be traveling with his family to settle down in Abu Dhabi.

When asked if Leon's accepting the post could create a conflict of interest, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said that Leon’s record as a diplomat “speaks for itself.”

"I'm sure he will make a terrific teacher of diplomacy,” Dujarric said.

In August, Leon sent an email to the UAE Foreign Ministry saying that he was about to be appointed a prestigious UN position, to be “a king of high advisor for all UN mediations” and that would help “future UAE diplomats interact with some of the most relevant world mediators.”

“Of course, if you prefer I focus exclusively on [the diplomatic academy], there’s no problem and I won’t accept the proposal,” he added.

Libya has been dragged into chaos in the last few years. Almost 1,600 armed militia forces operated in the country of 6 million people.

After months of negotiations, Leon presented Libya’s rival factions with a proposed unity government. However, both sides have resisted power-sharing. Talks are currently at a standstill.

Emirates Diplomatic Academy announced on Wednesday that Leon would began his post in December as director-general. The academy’s board of trustees is chaired by UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al Nahayan and trains future diplomats.

TRTWorld and agencies