Head of Palestinian UN agency resigns amid sexual misconduct, abuse of authority allegations

Hours after Pierre Krahenbuhl was put on “leave” due to allegations of sexual misconduct and nepotism at the corruption-plagued Palestinian U.N. agency he oversaw, the Swiss national announced his resignation.

By World Israel News and AP

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres placed Pierre Krahenbuhl, the head of the Palestinians’ dedicated U.N. agency (UNRWA), on “administrative leave” Wednesday based on an investigation by the U.N. Office of Internal Oversight Services related to allegations of sexual misconduct, nepotism and other abuses of authority at the agency.

Hours after news broke of Krahenbuhl’s “leave”, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric announced at a news briefing, “UNRWA’s Commissioner-General, Pierre Krahenbuhl, informed the Secretary-General that he was resigning, effective immediately.”

A confidential report by the U.N. ethics office obtained by The Associated Press in July claimed UNRWA managers including Krahenbuhl had “engaged in sexual misconduct, nepotism, retaliation, discrimination and other abuses of authority.”

Citing information from some 25 current and past UNRWA directors and staff, the ethics report said an “inner circle” comprised of Krahenbuhl, his deputy Sandra Mitchell, Chief of Staff Hakam Shahwan and senior adviser Maria Mohammedi had bypassed normal decision-making processes and sidelined field and program directors and other senior staff.

The report alleges that Krahenbuhl, a Swiss national who was appointed to lead UNRWA on March 30, 2014, started a relationship with Mohammedi late that year that “went beyond the professional,” created “a toxic environment,” and caused “frequent embarrassment.”

The ethics office said Krahenbuhl established the post of “senior adviser” and followed “an extreme fast-track” to give the job to Mohammedi. She traveled with him on the vast majority of his business travels, using waivers so she could travel business class with him, the report alleged.

The report said some former executive office staff reported that Krahenbuhl was away from UNRWA headquarters in Jerusalem for 28-29 days per month, claiming a daily allowance. It said he told a senior staff member in mid-November 2018 that he had made 52 trips during that year up until that time.

While the preliminary findings of the investigation “exclude fraud or misappropriation of operational funds” by Krahenbuhl, UNRWA is no stranger to scandal. The Hamas terror group has used its schools and other facilities to hide weapons, with Hamas members caught on the UN agency’s payroll.

UNRWA has also remained under fire for a curriculum in its schools riddled with anti-Semitism, terror incitement, and martyr worship.

Israel also accuses UNRWA of grossly inflating the number of Palestinian “refugees” the agency claims to serve, in a strategy that has been called out for exacerbating the plight of the Palestinians, instead of improving it.

“The stepping aside of Krahenbuhl is but the first step in a long process that is needed to eliminate corruption, increase transparency, and prevent politicization of the agency,” the Israeli Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

With regard to the Krahenbuhl scandal, Guterres placed him on immediate leave while the managerial issues “are further clarified so that a final determination can be made, and any appropriate action taken,” Dujarric said.

Guterres appointed Christian Saunders to act as officer-in-charge of the U.N. agency, known as UNRWA, during Krahenbuhl’s leave.

The allegations in the ethics report came amid a financial crisis for UNRWA, sparked by the unprecedented loss of all funding from the United States, its largest donor. The step was taken due to corruption allegations and UNRWA’s refusal to address issues related to terror incitement and its anti-Semitic school curriculum.

The ethics report alleged that the concentration of power began in 2015 and escalated after the United States cut funding from $360 million to just $60 million in 2018. This year, the agency received nothing from the Trump administration.

Last year, 42 countries and institutions increased their contributions so the agency could finance its $1.2 million budget. UNRWA has kept the same $1.2 billion budget this year in hopes donors will be equally generous, but its financial support remains precarious.

Israeli leaders and lawmakers have long called for UNRWA’s dissolution, urging the development of an organization that serves the interests of Palestinians, promotes peace, and discourages terror and violence.