A British aid worker has taken over as acting head of the UN agency working with Palestinian refugees, after its Swiss head resigned following the publication of an ethics committee report into his behaviour.
Pierre Krahenbuhl, the commissioner-general of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNWRA), had been placed on administrative leave on Wednesday, but stood down on Thursday amid a swirl of allegations of sexual misconduct, nepotism and abuse of authority.
Christian Saunders takes over from Swiss-born Krahenbuhl with immediate effect after UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres intervened.
Krahenbuhl’s alleged misconduct was laid out in a confidential UN report based on statements from 25 current and former senior UNWRA staff, leaked to Associated Press in July.
It highlighted his relationship with senior adviser Maria Mohammedi, alleging this led to “frequent embarrassment,” a “toxic atmosphere” and a decision-making clique at the top of UNWRA. Others said Krahenbuhl was away from the organisation’s Jerusalem head office for 28-29 days per month, claiming a daily allowance.
Saunders is believed to have begun his UN career in 1989 with UNRWA in Gaza and was most recently UN assistant secretary-general for supply chain management.
The agency was first established to support 700,000 Palestinians displaced in 1948, but now provides education, health care, food and medicine to 5.5 million people in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. Donald Trump’s withdrawal of US funding for the agency last year has led to cuts in services.