ZURICH/JERUSALEM (Reuters) - The former head of the United Nations’ Palestinians aid agency who resigned in the face of an inquiry into misconduct allegations has denied wrongdoing and said his agency was the victim of a political campaign designed to undermine it.
The agency has faced budgetary difficulties since last year, when the United States, its biggest donor, halted its aid of $360 million per year. The United States and Israel have both accused UNRWA of mismanagement and anti-Israeli incitement.
Commissioner-General Pierre Krahenbuhl, a Swiss diplomat, was replaced on Wednesday pending completion of a review of “management-related matters” at the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) said.
“I have rejected these allegations from the start and will continue to do so,” Krahenbuhl said in an interview with Swiss broadcaster RTS on Wednesday evening. “There is no corruption, fraud or misappropriation of aid.”
In a resignation letter to U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, obtained by Reuters, Krahenbuhl complained the inquiry “has been fraught with leaks...despite your personal commitment to confidentiality”.
He denied what he called “the unfounded allegation that I entertained a romantic relationship with a staff member”.
Krahenbuhl said he was “above the politics that have governed this entire process” and was resigning “in the firm belief that this is in the best interest of Palestine refugees, of my family and myself”.
He added: “A further delay would only benefit those who have so actively engaged in political, financial and personal attacks over the past two years with the declared objective to undermine UNRWA and the integrity of Palestine refugees.”
UNRWA assists more than 5 million registered Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, as well as in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.
Krahenbuhl wrote that Washington’s withholding of funding had caused “an existential financial crisis” at UNRWA.
He was notified in March that an investigation was under way by the U.N. Secretariat in New York “based on allegations received against UNRWA personnel relating to unsatisfactory conduct”, an UNRWA spokeswoman said.
Krahenbuhl, who took over the UNRWA post in 2014, was previously director of operations at the International Committee of the Red Cross.
His tenure at cash-strapped UNRWA saw frequent clashes with U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration, which has suggested refugee host countries should take over UNRWA’s services across the Middle East.
Switzerland, the Netherlands and Belgium have separately suspended payments to UNRWA over the management issues that are now under investigation. The agency’s spokeswoman says it still needs $89 million to keep operating until the end of this year.
Reporting by Michael Shields, Stephen Farrell and Rami Ayyub; Editing by Mark Heinrich
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