JERUSALEM – The head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees has been placed on administrative leave as an internal probe into alleged mismanagement at the organisation proceeds, the United Nations said Wednesday.
Pierre Krahenbuhl, commissioner general of the agency known as UNRWA, will be replaced on an interim basis by the agency’s acting deputy chief Christian Saunders, his agency said.
The agency said findings in the probe so far “revealed management issues which relate specifically to the commissioner general.”
A separate statement from UN headquarters said Secretary General Antonio Guterres had decided to place Krahenbuhl on administrative leave for now.
It said preliminary findings revealed no “fraud or misappropriation of operational funds by the commissioner-general. There are, however, managerial issues that need to be addressed.”
An internal ethics report has alleged mismanagement and abuses of authority at the highest levels of the agency, which has also faced a financial crisis after US funding cuts.
UN investigators have been probing the allegations in the confidential report, a copy of which was obtained by AFP.
The report describes “credible and corroborated” allegations of serious ethical abuses, including ones involving Krahenbuhl, a Swiss national.
It says the allegations include senior management engaging in “sexual misconduct, nepotism, retaliation, discrimination and other abuses of authority, for personal gain, to suppress legitimate dissent, and to otherwise achieve their personal objectives.”
Krahenbuhl himself was alleged to have been romantically involved with a colleague appointed in 2015 to a newly created role of senior adviser after an “extreme fast-track” process, the report says.
That enabled her to join him on international business class flights, the report alleges.
UNRWA came under heavy financial constraints after the United States suspended and later cut all funding for it in 2018.
US President Donald Trump’s administration, along with Israel, accuses UNRWA of perpetuating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The agency disputes that and says the services it provides would otherwise not be available to Palestinians.
Following Wednesday’s announcement, Israel called the organisation’s operational model “unsustainable”.
“The international community needs to find a new model that will provide humanitarian assistance to those who truly need it, and must remove from the agenda the futile idea of the return of the refugees,” Foreign Minister Israel Katz said in a statement.
A number of other countries suspended their contributions pending the outcome of the probe into alleged mismanagement.
UNRWA was set up in the years after more than 700,000 Palestinians were expelled or fled their lands during the 1948 war surrounding the creation of Israel.
It provides schooling and medical services to millions of impoverished refugees in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria as well as the Palestinian territories.
It employs around 30,000 people, mostly Palestinians, and its UN mandate is set to be debated later this year.
A European diplomat speaking on condition of anonymity said he was “grateful for all (Krahenbuhl) did to stabilise the organisation during a difficult time, but stepping aside now is the correct decision.”
Source: Voice of America