Report reveals married head of UN aid agency hired his girlfriend to fly around the world

The married head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees should be sacked immediately for hiring his girlfriend and running the £1.2bn ($1.46bn) organisation for ‘personal gain’, an ethics report has concluded.

Commissioner General Pierre Krahenbuhl, at the UN Relief and Works Agency, appointed Maria Mohammedi in 2015 as a senior adviser in an ‘an extreme fast-track’ process and together they flew around the world in business class.

Krahenbuhl started a relationship with Mohammedi the year before that ‘went beyond the professional’, created ‘a toxic environment’ and caused ‘frequent embarrassment’. 

His deputy Sandra Mitchell is also accused of nepotism by promoting her husband Robert Langridge to become deputy director at UNRWA’s Jordan field office. 

The UN report claims that Langridge ‘was appointed through an irregular recruitment process and in violation of the UN and Agency prohibition of conflicted spousal appointment’. 

The ethics office report found that bosses at the agency ‘engaged in sexual misconduct, nepotism and discrimination’.

It recommended that ‘their immediate removal should be carefully considered’ and said the concerns are ‘an extremely grave and significant reputational, operational and security risk to the agency’. 

However nothing has been done about the report which was completed in December 2018. It has now been leaked by staff angry at the UN’s inaction.     

UNRWA is the largest agency of the United Nations with over 30,000 staff.  

Married Pierre Krahenbuh, the head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, is accused of flying his girlfriend around the world business class

Married Pierre Krahenbuh, the head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, is accused of flying his girlfriend around the world business class

Married Pierre Krahenbuh, the head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, is accused of flying his girlfriend around the world business class

The corruption grew worse as scrutiny waned after the Trump cut its funding from $360 million to $60 million in 2018 and then gave nothing this year.   

42 countries and institutions increased their contributions last year so the agency could finance its $1.2 million budget.     

The report concluded that the funding crisis ‘has served as an excuse for an extreme concentration of decision-making power in members of the ”clique”’ that no longer feared scrutiny.

In particular the states that the ‘[former] chief of staff; increased disregard for agency rules and established procedures, with exceptionalism becoming the norm; and continued excessive travel of the commissioner-general’.

There has been an exodus of staff and ‘an organisational culture characterised by low morale, fear of retaliation – including through non-renewal of contracts – distrust, bullying, intimidation, and marginalisation’.

Sandra Mitchell, Krahenbuh's deputy at UNRWA, is alleged to have used her position to secure a more senior appointment for her spouse, Robert Langridge, at the agency's Jordan office

Sandra Mitchell, Krahenbuh's deputy at UNRWA, is alleged to have used her position to secure a more senior appointment for her spouse, Robert Langridge, at the agency's Jordan office

Sandra Mitchell, Krahenbuh’s deputy at UNRWA, is alleged to have used her position to secure a more senior appointment for her spouse, Robert Langridge, at the agency’s Jordan office 

The report alleges these acts were carried out ‘for personal gain, to suppress legitimate dissent, and to otherwise achieve their personal objectives, jeopardising the credibility and interests of the agency’.  

It also claims the funding crisis ‘has served as an excuse for an extreme concentration of decision-making power in members of the ”clique”’ that no longer feared scrutiny.

In particular the states that the ‘[former] chief of staff; increased disregard for agency rules and established procedures, with exceptionalism becoming the norm; and continued excessive travel of the commissioner-general’. 

 

Maria Mohammedi was employed in an 'extreme fast-tracked process' to the role of senior adviser to Pierre Krahenbuh. He is alleged to have been romantically involved with Mohammedi and promoted her to fly her around the world

Maria Mohammedi was employed in an 'extreme fast-tracked process' to the role of senior adviser to Pierre Krahenbuh. He is alleged to have been romantically involved with Mohammedi and promoted her to fly her around the world

Maria Mohammedi was employed in an ‘extreme fast-tracked process’ to the role of senior adviser to Pierre Krahenbuh. He is alleged to have been romantically involved with Mohammedi and promoted her to fly her around the world 

 

One senior official named in the report has left the organisation due to ‘inappropriate behaviour’ linked to the investigation, UNRWA said, while another has resigned for what the agency called ‘personal reasons’. 

Citing information from some 25 current and past UNRWA directors and staff, the report said an ‘inner circle’ comprising Krahenbuhl, his deputy Sandra Mitchell, Chief of Staff Hakam Shahwan and senior adviser Maria Mohammedi have bypassed normal decision-making processes and sidelined field and programme directors and other senior staff.

According to the ethics report, Krahenbuhl, who was appointed to lead UNRWA on March 30, 2014, started a relationship with Mohammedi late that year that ‘went beyond the professional’, created ‘a toxic environment,’ and caused ‘frequent embarrassment’. 

Taib Rahim, wife of Krahenbuh. He is accused of abusing his authority as head of UNRWA to create a 'toxic environment'

Taib Rahim, wife of Krahenbuh. He is accused of abusing his authority as head of UNRWA to create a 'toxic environment'

Taib Rahim, wife of Krahenbuh. He is accused of abusing his authority as head of UNRWA to create a ‘toxic environment’ 

When directors who have since left raised it with Krahenbuhl, the report said ‘they felt increasingly isolated or marginalised’ and one believed it was key to his contract not being renewed.

The ethics office said Krahenbuhl established the post of senior adviser and followed ‘an extreme fast-track’ to give the job to Mohammedi. 

She travelled with him on the vast majority of his business travels, using waivers so she could travel business class with him, the report alleged.

The report said some former executive office staff reported that Krahenbuhl was away from UNRWA headquarters in Jerusalem for 28 to 29 days per month, claiming a daily allowance. 

It said he told a senior staff member in mid-November that he had made 52 trips up until that time in 2018.

UNRWA’s spokeswoman did not respond to an email seeking comment.

Mohammedi was quoted by Al Jazeera as rejecting accusations about her conduct as ‘false’ and ‘ill-intentioned’. 

Mitchell rejected all the allegations made in the report, including that she abused her power to secure an appointment for her spouse, and resigned in late July. According to Al Jazeera said Shahwan left in early July. 

Krahenbuhl ‘unreservedly’ rejected the characterisation of UNRWA and its senior leadership and said he was cooperating with the investigation and would implement any ‘corrective measures or other management actions’ it may recommend, Al Jazeera reported.

UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said an investigation of the allegations is ongoing and Secretary-General Antonio Guterres would not comment until it is completed. 

He said Krahenbuhl ‘has been doing excellent work, but we are saying that without prejudice to the result of this investigation’.  

 

 

 

  

 

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