Speed Reads

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United Nations staff spent $9.5 million at the Four Seasons in Damascus in 2016

The United Nations recorded spending $9.5 million at the Four Seasons hotel in Damascus, Syria, in 2016. In doing so, the organization put money straight into the pockets of the Syrian government, which co-owns the lodging, Bloomberg Politics reports.

In addition to the eye-popping hotel bill, the U.N. awarded telecommunications and security contracts to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's cousin and donated money to a charity organized by Assad's wife. In total, $18 million flowed from the U.N. to Assad-linked businesses.

"Any money going to Assad and his allies shows that the U.N. is not impartial but is in fact helping the largest player in the conflict," Kathleen Fallon, a spokesperson for the Syria Campaign advocacy group, told Bloomberg Politics. "The regime has been responsible for the majority of the deaths, and they are being rewarded. It sends the wrong message."

The U.N. does not have to follow restrictions imposed by member states; instead, the organization uses its own blacklist. "Still, the distribution of funds to Assad allies will further fuel criticism that the world body has failed badly over Syria, where more than six years of civil war have left at least 400,000 people dead," Bloomberg Politics writes.

The U.N.'s chief spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, explained that the Four Seasons costs resulted from "limited options." "That's one place in Damascus that has been cleared for security," Dujarric said. The full U.N. report can be read here.