UNITED NATIONS - The head of the U.N. agency that cares for Palestinian refugees in the Middle East stepped down Wednesday, amid an internal investigation into allegations of mismanagement.
"A short while ago, UNRWA's Commissioner-General, Pierre Krähenbühl, informed the Secretary-General that he was resigning, effective immediately," U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters, using the acronym for the U.N. Relief and Works Agency.
Krähenbühl's resignation comes just hours after the United Nations said Secretary-General António Guterres had placed the UNRWA chief on administrative leave pending the full results of the internal investigation.
The preliminary results of the investigation found that Krähenbühl did not commit fraud or misappropriate funds, but there were "managerial issues" to be addressed.
The commissioner-general and a handful of his top aides were accused in a leaked internal ethics report last June of violations, including misconduct, nepotism and retaliation. He also was accused of having an inappropriate relationship with a senior female staff member.
Krähenbühl, a Swiss native, has been commissioner-general of UNRWA since March 2014. Before that he was director of operations at the International Committee of the Red Cross and has a career spanning more than 25 years in the humanitarian sector.
The secretary-general named British national Christian Saunders to act as the officer-in-charge of UNRWA until a new commissioner is appointed.
U.N. spokesman Dujarric said Saunders will lead the implementation of a management plan to strengthen the agency, particularly in the areas of oversight and accountability.
Israel's U.N. ambassador reiterated his government's desire to see UNRWA shut down.
"Since its establishment, UNRWA has not worked to resolve the refugee issue, but instead fought hard to perpetuate it," Danny Danon said in a statement. "The growing list of charges related to the agency's conduct makes it clear that there is no other solution except to close it."
UNRWA assists 5.5 million registered Palestinian refugees in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, as well as in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. Half of its 2018 regular budget of $747 million was spent on education. It also provides health and other humanitarian support.
The agency has been faced with a huge funding crisis since the United States — its largest donor — cut its contributions by $300 million in 2018, and then stopped them completely this year. UNRWA has been working overtime to meet the funding gap left by the Trump administration's decision.
UNRWA's current 3-year mandate expires on June 30, 2020, and the U.N. General Assembly is due to renew it before the end of this year.