A high-level fact-finding panel led by former Indian Ambassador to the United Nations, Vijay Nambiar, has been set up to probe the circumstances surrounding the recent discovery of a "potentially hazardous substance" at the world body's New York offices.
The discovery was made at the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) premises when the documents and materials were being archived following the Security Council's decision to end its mandate. UNMOVIC was tasked with ensuring that ex-Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's regime did not produce chemical or biological weapons.
The material is being tested by the US authorities which have not yet announced the result though media reports quoting unidentified sources said the material could be nothing more than a cleaning agent and is not toxic. The UN will comment only after it receives the report.
Announcing the initiation of investigations, Chief UN Spokesperson Michele Montas told reporters on Friday that Nambiar, currently the UN Secretary General's Chef de Cabinet, will lead the inquiry into circumstances surrounding the discovery of the "potentially hazardous substance."
Montas said the inquiry panel will include Stefan Mogl, who previously led the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons' laboratory and currently heads Chemistry Department at Switzerland's' SPIEZ national laboratory, and Susan Brown, Director of the High Performance Computing Outreach Centre at the University of Hawaii in Honolulu.
Brown is a chemical engineering and energy technology expert who served in Iraq with the UN Special Commission -- UNMOVIC's predecessor -- in the 1990s.
The UN Undersecretary-General for Safety and Security, David Veness, will also be on the panel.
"The panel, which will act under the direction of Vijay Nambiar, the Secretary-General's Chef de Cabinet, is expected to meet for the first time next week.
"It will be tasked with ascertaining the circumstances under which the substances in question were brought to UN Headquarters, the reasons why the items were discovered only recently, and safety procedures in place and the extent to which they were followed," the spokesperson said.
The panel is expected to deliver a report to the Secretary General by the end of October.
The material came to light last month when UNMOVIC staff discovered two small plastic packages with metal and glass containers.