UN staff's aid corruption in Yemen 'cannot go unpunished'

UN official Ursula Mueller says agencies’ activity is ‘disastrous’

Displaced Yemenis from Durahemi receive food aid in the Red Sea port city of Hodeida on August 9, 2019. The Yemeni conflict has triggered what the United Nations describes as the world's worst humanitarian crisis, with 3.3 million people still displaced and 24.1 million in need of aid. / AFP / -
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Investigations into the corrupt use of international aid money in Yemen by UN staff and ethics breaches by managers at the world body’s agency for Palestinian refugees must identify the perpetrators, a top humanitarian official said.

Speaking on Monday, Ursula Mueller, assistant secretary general for humanitarian affairs, described the alleged misbehaviour as “disastrous”.

“It cannot go unpunished,” Ms Mueller said in New York.

“We really need to look at the people that are committing these very devastating activities. These people need to face consequences. It cannot be brushed aside.”

An internal report revealed earlier this month that more than a dozen WHO employees in Yemen diverted food, medicine, fuel and money away from those supposed to receive help.

WHO auditors established that between 2016 and 2018 unqualified people were in high-paying jobs, millions of dollars were deposited in personal bank accounts, contracts were approved without paperwork and tonnes of donated medicine and fuel disappeared.

The UN’s Office of Internal Oversight Services is handling the WHO probe.

A second investigation into misconduct in Yemen is focused on another UN agency, Unicef, and a report that one staffer allowed a Houthi rebel commander to travel in a UN vehicle.

It was also disclosed late in July that senior management at the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, mired in funding problems, are under investigation for “sexual misconduct, nepotism, retaliation, discrimination and other abuses of authority”.

The scandals have left the credibility of the UN’s procedures, and its overall role, in question.

Ms Mueller said all claims of misbehaviour would be investigated.

“Any taint of fraud or corruption is a disaster,” she said. “We have fraud prevention mechanisms in place and when we hear about irregularities we make every effort to follow up.”