Swiss UNRWA boss said to have created ‘toxic work environment’

Pierre Krähenbühl of Switzerland has headed UNRWA since 2014. Keystone

Pierre Krähenbühl, the embattled Swiss head of Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA, created a post for his mistress which was funded by Bern, reports the Sonntagszeitung newspaper.

This content was published on August 4, 2019 - 12:12

The paper says it has seen the confidential report by UNRWA’s ethics office claiming that members of its top management abused their authority, with charges including nepotism, discrimination and sexual misconduct. They centre on an alleged love affair between Krähenbühl and a woman he worked with, which helped create a “toxic work environment”, according to the paper.

In 2015, Krähenbühl reportedly created a post of “Special Advisor” and gave the position to his mistress. Costs of this post were funded by the Swiss foreign affairs ministry from March 2015 to December 2018. This was confirmed to the newspaper by the ministry, the paper reports. However, the ministry declined to disclose how much was spent on her salary or whether travel expenses were also included.

The ethics commission report says many people both inside and outside UNRWA knew about the affair between the married Krähenbühl and his chief advisor, writes Sonntagszeitung. It is alleged that he was often at her place of work rather than his, and that they frequently travelled business class together, while most of the management travelled economy class,

These allegations are currently under investigation by the United Nations. Krähenbühl has been at UNRWAExternal link since 2014, and has apparently pledged full cooperation with the investigating authorities.

Switzerland has temporarily frozen its annual payments of CHF22.3 million ($22.7 million) to UNRWA in the wake of the allegations, as has the Netherlands.

UNRWA has already been under intense pressure since one of its main donors, the United States, last year cut all funding. 

The Swiss foreign minister, Ignazio Cassis, has also publicly criticised the role of UNRWA. 

The agency has an annual budget of $1.2 billion to support more than five million Palestinian refugees in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Gaza and the West Bank.

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