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Ex-head of U.N. Palestinian refugee agency denies wrongdoing amid misconduct probe

Ex-head of U.N. Palestinian refugee agency denies wrongdoing amid misconduct probe
FILE PHOTO: Pierre Krahenbuhl, Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), attends a news conference in Geneva, Switzerland January 29, 2019. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Photo -
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DENIS BALIBOUSE(Reuters)
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ZURICH (Reuters) – The former head of the United Nations’ Palestinians aid agency who resigned in the face of an inquiry into misconduct allegations has denied wrongdoing and said his agency was victim of a political campaign.

The agency has faced budgetary difficulties since last year, when the United States, its biggest donor, halted its aid of $360 million per year. The United States and Israel have both accused UNRWA of mismanagement and anti-Israeli incitement.

Commissioner-General Pierre Krahenbuhl, a Swiss diplomat, was replaced on Wednesday pending completion of a review of “management-related matters” at the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) said.

“I have rejected these allegations from the start and will continue to do so,” Krahenbuhl said in an interview with Swiss broadcaster RTS on Wednesday evening. “There is no corruption, fraud or misappropriation of aid.”

He said he had never faced such “extreme attacks” in his 28 years of humanitarian activity.

UNRWA assists more than 5 million registered Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, as well as in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

Krahenbuhl was notified in March that an investigation was under way by the U.N. Secretariat in New York “based on allegations received against UNRWA personnel relating to unsatisfactory conduct”, an UNRWA spokeswoman said.

Krahenbuhl, who took over the UNRWA post in 2014, was previously director of operations at the Geneva-based International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

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.

(Reporting by Michael Shields; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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