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Palestinian refugees  UNRWA replaces Swiss boss pending misconduct inquiry 

Pierre Krähenbühl in front of UN logo

Krähenbühl has been head of UNWRA for five years.

(© Keystone/Martial Trezzini)

The head of the United Nations agency that aids Palestinian refugees has stepped aside until the end of an investigation into misconduct allegations, the agency said on Wednesday. 

Commissioner General Pierre Krähenbühl stepped aside until a review of “management-related matters” at the agency was completed, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) said in a statementexternal link

It gave no details of the substance of the allegations. 

Media reports have mentioned a damaging internal report that included allegations he created a post for his mistress that was funded by the Swiss government. 

UNRWA provides education, health, housing and relief services to more than five million registered refugees in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, as well as in neighbouring countries Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. 

The UN Secretary General appointed Christian Saunders as officer-in-charge for the interim period. Saunders previously served as the agency's acting deputy commissioner general. 

“Over the last few months, UNRWA has initiated an internal review of its governance, management and accountability functions, so as to ensure it practices the highest standards of professionalism, transparency and efficiency,” the UNRWA statement said. 

Suspended payments 

Krähenbühl, a Swiss national, was notified in March that an investigation was underway by the UN secretariat in New York based on “allegations received against UNRWA personnel relating to unsatisfactory conduct”. 

UNRWA has faced budgetary difficulties since last year, when the United States, its biggest donor, halted its aid of $360 million (CHF357 million) per year. Washington says some UNRWA activities are anti-Israeli. 

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. 

The Swiss government is due to publish a report before the end of the year on the future ties with UNRWA. 

swissinfo.ch with Reuters and Keystone-ATS/ug

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