SonntagsZeitung: “UNRWA chief Pierre Krähenbühl hired mistresses with Swiss money,” according to ethics report

How the UN relief chief poisoned the working climate

Pierre Krähenbühl hired mistresses – with Swiss money, according to ethics report

August 4, 2019

By Simon Widmer

Zurich — A report by the internal ethics committee has shaken the UN Palestinian Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). There is talk of abuse of power, mismanagement and nepotism. The allegations currently being investigated by the UN are so serious that Switzerland has frozen the annual payments of 22.3 million Swiss francs.

The report is available to the SonntagsZeitung. At the center is an alleged love affair of the Swiss UNRWA chief Pierre Krähenbühl, which created a “toxic working environment” – and which was financially supported by Switzerland.

At the end of 2015, Krähenbühl created a position as “Special Advisor”, which he filled with Maria M. Her official task was to support Krähenbühl in his search for donors, according to UNRWA spokesperson Tamara Alrifai.

The expenses for Maria M. were paid by Switzerland from March 2015 to December 2018, as confirmed by the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs (FDFA). The FDFA does not wish to disclose how much money Switzerland spent on the senior advisor and whether travel expenses were paid in addition to her salary, citing the ongoing UN investigation.

According to the report, the recruitment process for Maria M. was “unusually quick”. She was also classified one pay grade higher than usual. Spokeswoman Alrifai speaks of a “competitive recruitment process” that Maria M. went through. Alrifai also emphasizes M.’s experience as a lawyer and her many years of work for UNRWA.

The head of UNRWA was hardly ever at his place of work

Both internally and among the donor states, it was clear to many that the married Krähenbühl and his chief advisor were having an affair. Employees often had to answer the question as to why the two of them always traveled together – “and what they did in the evenings.” According to the report, M. asked about the size of the beds when traveling. This was not well received in conservative countries such as Saudi Arabia.

While most of the executives flew economy class, Krähenbühl and his chief advisor usually jetted around the globe in business class. The Swiss was hardly ever at his workplace in Jerusalem. But more and more often in Amman, where Maria M. worked. A former cadre describes Krähenbühl as a “submarine”: “Every now and then he would turn up for a few days, then disappear and be unreachable.”

When asked, Maria M. referred to a spokeswoman. Pierre Krähenbühl did not respond to questions, but denied the allegations to the TV station al-Jazeera. The UN’s internal supervisory authority OIOS is currently investigating the events. According to the Ethics Commission’s report, 25 current and former members of staff are prepared to make their allegations personally.

UNRWA has been under pressure for some time. The SonntagsZeitung reported that some of the teaching materials used in UNRWA schools incite anti-Semitism. Foreign Minister Ignazio Cassis criticized the aid organization back in 2018. Despite this, Switzerland continued to support the Palestine Relief and Works Agency. That is now different. In addition to Switzerland, the Netherlands and Belgium have also suspended payments.

UNRWA spokeswoman Alrifai says that they want to wait for the investigation. Should “results emerge that require corrective measures or management action, we will not hesitate to take them”. The report was unveiled by journalist and author Ian Williams. His view is clear: “Pierre Krähenbühl is no longer tenable. The only question now is whether he will resign voluntarily or whether the UN Secretary-General will dismiss him.”


UN Watch