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International Man of Mystery

Published by The New York Sun on 2005-04-29

The Canadian tycoon and self-styled socialist who???s currently embroiled in a scandal relating to the United Nations, Maurice Strong, has created a worldwide network of influential people whom he???s enlisted in the cause of environmentalism and ???sustainable development??? ??? a phrase he claims to have coined to denote ecological security, economic progress, and social justice. The 75-year-old Mr. Strong, a son of poor parents, has benefited through such networking, accumulating wealth and gaining status for himself and his friends.

A phrase frequently used in connection with Mr. Strong is ???international man of mystery,??? and he has long occupied that zone where personal business interests are made to mesh with public-policy issues.

His leftist ideology, his political associations, and his platform for nearly four decades at the United Nations have enabled Mr. Strong to collaborate with companies and politicians he drew into the U.N. ambit. Some of those who have tracked Mr. Strong???s activities have called him ???Chairman Mo,??? or ???Max??? ??? as in ???maximum leader.???

One member of that network is Prime Minister Martin, a liberal currently embroiled in a financial scandal in Canada. Before he became premier, Mr. Martin was co-chairman of a U.N. commission on Third World development. Mr. Strong had suggested the appointment to Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who, when Mr. Martin acceded to the premiership last year, became the first international leader to be the prime minister???s official guest. Mr. Strong has said Mr. Martin and Mr. Annan have ???a high degree of chemistry.???

Mr. Martin has taken to using a favorite Strong term, ???global equalization,??? a call for imposing global taxes on wealthy nations and distributing more money to poor countries under the auspices of the United Nations. A few days ago, the political analyst Paul Foster, writing in Canada???s National Post, asked: ???Where, for example, might Mr. Martin have come up with the idea for ???global equalization,??? which amounts to the fulfillment of The Communist Manifesto????

Well before Mr. Martin became prime minister, he invested in a Strong company, Cordex Petroleums, the same enterprise that attracted $1 million from the North Korea-born Tongsun Park, a businessman who has been charged by federal authorities with bribing U.N. officials in the Iraq oil-for-food scandal. Mr. Martin???s investment came through a holding company he controlled, the CSL Group Inc., according to Mr. Strong???s disclosures.

Mr. Strong also invited in as a director William Hopper, who had served as head of Petro-Canada, the state oil company Mr. Strong founded in 1975, according to records. Mr. Strong was also the first chief executive of Petro-Canada, which has annual revenues of $3.7 billion and is listed on the Toronto and New York stock exchanges.

The New York Sun left messages at Mr. Strong's office and home in Ottawa yesterday, but the calls were not returned. Mr. Strong's friend and associate,

Jim MacNeill, said in a telephone interview that Mr. Strong ???is taking the current controversy in stride.???

???He feels it's unfortunate that this is happening, although understandable in light of the fact that Tongsun Park had invested in one of his companies,??? Mr. MacNeill said of Mr. Strong, adding that the latter felt he would emerge unscathed from the controversy.

Another international figure whom Mr. Strong has assisted is James Wolfensohn, out-going president of the World Bank. After Mr. Wolfensohn arrived in America from his native Australia, he worked at one point with Mr. Strong, according to the Canadian. Mr. Wolfensohn???s campaign for the World Bank???s presidency was organized by Mr. Strong, according to his friends, and enlisted the support of another Strong friend, Vice President Gore, to whom Mr. Strong donated more than $100,000 during the 1992 presidential race. Mr. Strong talked about his political donation to friends and colleagues.

One of Mr. Wolfensohn???s first actions upon becoming World Bank head was to appoint Mr. Strong as a special adviser charged with recommending high-level appointments, among other things. His friends said Mr. Strong then suggested several friends for lucrative jobs at the World Bank, including Mark Malloch Brown as Mr. Wolfensohn???s spokesman.

Mr. Malloch Brown is now at the United Nations, as chef de cabinet to Mr. Annan, to whom Mr. Strong had recommended the Briton. It was the second U.N. job Mr. Strong helped secure for Mr. Malloch Brown, the first being head of the U.N. Development Programme, which dispenses $1 billion in technical aid and grants to poor countries each year. Several Strong associates, including Nay Thun of Myanmar and Alicia Barcena of Mexico, have gotten highly paid consultancies or jobs in the U.N. system.

A former radio producer for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Anita Gordon, who is reported to be close to Mr. Strong, got a position as a communications officer at the World Bank, where she focuses on the environment. She???s promoting the Kyoto Protocol, the climate treaty that Mr. Strong helped engineer as part of his advocacy of global treaties administered by the U.N. bureaucracy.

Still another Strong associate to become an official of an international group is Jim MacNeill, who became head of the environment department of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development. Its director general, Donald Johnston, is another Canadian and another Strong ally. Mr. MacNeill went on to serve as secretary general of the so-called Brundtland Commission, named after its chairman, Gro Harlem Brundtland, then Norway???s prime minister. Dr. Brundtland later won appointment as head of the World Health Organization, and her name often crops up as a possible successor to Mr. Annan.

In the 1990s, Mr. Strong himself entertained the idea of seeking the top U.N. job and consulted informally with diplomats of many countries, but a quadruple-bypass heart operation at the Mayo Clinic prevented him from pursuing that quest more vigorously.

Mr. Strong, too, was a member of the Brundtland Commission, which recommended that the United Nations convene the 1992 Conference on Environment and Development, more widely known as the Earth Summit. Dr. Brundtland, an avowed socialist like Mr. Strong and Mr. MacNeill, lobbied one of Mr. Annan???s predecessors, Javier Perez de Cuellar, to name Mr. Strong as the Earth Summit???s secretary general, which is what happened.

The summit, held in Rio de Janeiro, brought together 110 world leaders, including President George H.W. Bush, and 50,000 environmentalists at a three-week event. It cost the United Nations more than $65 million.

With much fanfare, the leaders signed a document known as Agenda 21, a blueprint for a radical restructuring of the world order to promote sustainable development and alleviate poverty. Like most U.N. documents, it has mostly languished. This reporter served as a press adviser to the Earth Summit between late 1991 and mid-1992. Mr. Strong supported the creation of a newspaper edited by this reporter, the Earth Times.

Another prominent figure closely allied with Mr. Strong is a former Colorado senator, Timothy Wirth. When the Democrat decided to leave the Senate after his first term, Mr. Strong sought to hire him as head of the Earth Council, an activist nonprofit organization that he had formed after the Rio Earth Summit. In the event, Mr. Wirth teamed up with another close Strong friend, Ted Turner, founder of Cable News Network. Mr. Strong persuaded Mr. Turner to contribute $1 billion in stock to the United Nations??? cause under the aegis of the U.N. Foundation, which Mr. Turner created in 1998. Mr. Strong has served on the foundation???s board, and Mr. Wirth has been president of the Washington-based organization since its founding.

Among the beneficiaries of the U.N. Foundation???s largesse have been a number of nongovernmental organizations, or NGOs, associated with Mr. Strong. One of Mr. Strong???s most trusted U.N. aides during the Earth Summit process, Jean-Claude Faby of France, has joined the foundation as head of its New York operations.

Yet another Strong aide, Nitin Desai of India ??? who was deputy secretary general of the Earth Summit ??? became head of a newly created Division for Sustainable Development, at the level of U.N. undersecretary-general. He retired last year but was then taken on as a consultant to various U.N. commissions and NGOs seeking grants and other favors from the United Nations.

Mr. Desai???s wife, Aditi, has not only worked for the U.N. Population Fund but has also represented Mr. Strong???s Earth Council in New York. She is a close friend of his wife, Hanne Marstrand, a Dane.

Mrs. Strong runs a New Age commune on the Strongs??? 63,000-acre ranch in the San Luis Valley, at the edge of the Sangre de Cristo mountains in southern Colorado. She heads various entities there, including the Manitou Foundation, the Crestone project, and interfaith initiatives.

Born in 1929 at Oak Lane, Manitoba, Maurice Strong has been involved with the United Nations since the late 1940s, when he worked there briefly as a security guard.

He returned to Canada to pursue entrepreneurship, and at 25 he became vice president of Dome Petroleum. At 31, he became president of the Power Corporation of Canada. In cooperation with Lester Pearson, Mr. Strong founded and headed the Canadian International Development Agency. He befriended Mr. Pearson???s successor as prime minister, Pierre Trudeau, whom he was eventually to nominate as an adviser to the United Nations.

Mr. Strong returned to the United Nations in the late 1960s, to organize what would be the first of a three-decade-long series of global gabfests of the world body. That first event was the 1972 U.N. Conference on the Human Environment, in Stockholm. Its main sponsor was Olaf Palme, then Sweden???s prime minister, a Strong friend, and a critic of American policy in Vietnam. It resulted in creation of the U.N. Environment Program, which Mr. Strong established and headed in Nairobi, where it operates under Klaus Toepfer, a former German environment minister and Strong prot??g??.

After the Earth Summit, Mr. Strong returned again to Canada, to become chairman of Ontario Hydro at the invitation of a fellow socialist, Ontario???s prime minister, Bob Rae. Enlisting his friend Mr. MacNeill, Mr. Strong developed several ???sustainability??? initiatives. Meanwhile, Ontario Hydro was faring poorly, and Mr. Strong cut 10,000 jobs.

Even while he was paring down the company, however, Mr. Strong went ahead with Ontario Hydro???s $12 million acquisition of nearly 31,000 acres of forestland in Costa Rica ??? a purchase resisted by the Central American country???s Kekoldi Indians.

???He is supporting Indians and conservation around the world and here he???s doing the complete opposite,??? the president of the Kekoldi Indian Association, Demetrio Myorga, told Canadian reporters at the time.

Mr. Strong told critics the purchase was made on the basis that saving a large section of forest would help offset the emission of greenhouse gases by oil or coal-burning generating stations.

Around the same time, Mr. Strong was himself building a $35 million, 12-suite beach resort at Villas del Carib on the eastern coast of Costa Rica. The luxury hotel was built within the Gandoca-Manzillo Wildlife Refuge, where development is restricted, and the Kekoldi Indian Reserve, where the Indian Association must approve construction. Mr. Strong???s company was called Desarrollos Ecologicos, ecological development in Spanish.

Indeed, Costa Rica has emerged as a something of a base for Mr. Strong. His Earth Council has its headquarters in the capital, San Jose. Costa Rica is also the site of the U.N.-sponsored University for Peace, of which Mr. Strong is chairman. And on its faculty are several of his aides from Earth Summit days.

Now Mr. Strong is promoting the adoption of an Earth Charter. It???s shaping up as a global constitution for the United Nations??? 191 members. The ecologically driven project is financed by several foundations and left-leaning European governments. Maurice Strong???s worldwide network always comes through for him.

Pranay Gupte,
Senior Writer and Global-Affairs Columnist

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