The head of the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees has stood aside after a investigation into allegations he appointed his mistress to a high-paying position so he could take her on work trips.
The UN has announced that an internal investigation into its Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) “revealed management issues which relate specifically to the Commissioner General”, Pierre Krahenbuhl.
“The Commissioner-General has stepped aside until the completion of the process,” the UN said in a statement.
Mr Krahenbuhl is accused of bypassing recruitment processes to appoint a woman he was romantically involved with to the position of senior advisor, so she could accompany him on business travel.
He is also accused of travelling excessively, staying in fancy hotels, while ostensibly seeking urgent funding for UNRWA, after the United States ceased all contributions to the agency — nearly a third of its funding — in 2018.
A leaked internal UN complaint alleged Mr Krahenbuhl was spending 28–29 days a month away from the agency’s headquarters in Jerusalem and that he waived rules to allow his alleged mistress to travel business class with him.
Mr Krahenbuhl denied the allegations, calling them “unfounded rumours” and said the investigation was yet to make any conclusions.
But a number of countries suspended aid to the embattled agency after the claims became public and the UN is still investigating other allegations of nepotism and bullying against other senior UNRWA staff.
That includes former New South Wales policeman Robert Langridge, the Deputy Director of the agency’s Jordan office.
He is accused of getting that job through an “irregular recruitment process”, after his wife Sandra Mitchell, who was then UNRWA’s deputy director, allegedly made two attempts to secure a senior role for him.
Mr Langridge and his wife have rejected the allegations in statements to Al Jazeera, which broke the original story.
But the UN said an internal review had found problems within UNRWA.
“The review revealed a number of areas which required strengthening, and the agency has already commenced corrective action and will be pursuing further initiatives and improvements over the coming months,” it said in a statement.
UNRWA is one of the UN’s oldest agencies, founded to help the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians displaced by the 1948–49 Arab-Israeli conflict.
It provides food, education, healthcare and other services to 5.4 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon.
The issue of whether those Palestinians have a right to return to land that’s now part of Israel has been one of the most contentious questions of peace negotiations.
Critics accuse UNRWA of perpetuating the problem of Palestinian refugees, while its defenders say Israeli intransigence is to blame for the lack of a resolution.
UNRWA’s UN mandate must be renewed every three years and is due to be voted on by the UN General Assembly next month.
Palestinian leaders have expressed concern that the misconduct allegations against senior UNRWA staff could lead countries to stop supporting the agency, which they said provides critical services to millions of people.