UNRWA chief suspected of ‘abuses of authority for personal gain’

Pierre Krahenbuhl’s “immediate removal should be carefully considered,” said an internal ethics report.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

The head of United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) Pierre Krahenbuhl is suspected by his own agency of corruption, Al Jazeera reported Monday.

According to the Qatar-based news agency, the Ethics Department of UNRWA has prepared a report accusing the 53-year-old Swiss and his close circle of “abuses of authority for personal gain, to suppress legitimate dissent and to otherwise achieve their personal objectives.”

Krahenbuhl and his close circle reportedly used the financial crisis caused last year when the United States stopped contributing to the organization to take “an extreme concentration of decision-making power” for themselves.

There was an “increased disregard for agency rules and established procedures,” with administrative staff suffering from “low morale, fear of retaliation… distrust, secrecy, bullying, intimidation and marginalization.” The result was “highly dysfunctional” management of the $900 million organization.

The UNRWA commissioner general’s personal behavior was castigated as well. According to the report, soon after he was appointed in 2014 he began taking trips to the Gulf with an UNRWA official, Maria Mohammedi, and their relationship went “beyond the professional.” He then appointed her as his senior adviser and used his authority to enable her to travel with him on the organization’s dime.

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The report also alleges that Krahenbuhl has claimed expenses while spending many months in Gulf countries on personal business trips. Yet he has been pleading for money from donor countries ever since the American administration cut off its major funding.

The ethics panel concluded that all the alleged improper behavior is “an enormous risk to the reputation of the U.N.” and that “their immediate removal should be carefully considered.”

There are four people mentioned altogether in the report. Krahenbuhl and Mohammedi are the only ones among them still in UNRWA’s employ. The deputy commissioner general and chief of staff left earlier this month.

Except to say that he was fully cooperating with the investigation, Kraehenbuehl refused to comment on any of the allegations, Al Jazeera said, explaining that he is “not at liberty to do so” by U.N. rules. Mohammedi, meanwhile, characterized the accusations against her as “false” and “ill-intentioned.”

The damning report was sent to U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in December 2018, but a source who said that nothing was seemingly being done decided to leak it to Al Jazeera, the agency said. According to the U.N., the report has been passed on to the organization’s Office of Internal Oversight Services for investigation and no comment will be made until the probe is complete.