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20 Oct, 2022 15:42

Top WHO official in Syria under investigation – AP

Dr. Akjemal Magtymova is accused of corruption, staffers told the agency
Top WHO official in Syria under investigation – AP

The head of the World Health Organization’s office in Syria, Dr. Akjemal Magtymova, is facing “one of the biggest internal probes” in the history of the UN health body, as the Turkmenistan national stands accused of misuse of funds and abuse, AP reported on Thursday.

WHO has looked through more than a hundred documents in which its staffers in the country allegedly described Magtymova’s suspected wrongdoings to the investigators.

They’ve blamed the organization’s top representative in Syria for being involved in a number of “questionable” contracts, including a transportation deal that awarded several million dollars to a supplier with whom she allegedly had personal ties. One of the unnamed employees claimed she had also received $20,000 in cash to buy medicine, despite no official request for such drugs being filed by the Syrian authorities.

According to AP, WHO officials have been concerned about the inability of its Syrian office to keep a proper record of the aid it’s providing to the country, which saw its health system crippled by more than a decade of fighting terrorism and harsh international sanctions. 

Magtymova has also allegedly used WHO’s funds to get expensive gifts such as “very good servers and laptops,” gold coins and expensive cars for the Syrian Health Ministry and other officials, the staffers said.  

Since arriving in Damascus in 2020, the UN official has lived in a posh multi-room suite in the capital’s Four Seasons hotel, paying $450 of WHO money per night for her stay, AP reported, citing WHO employees. Last May, Magtymova also organized a huge party at the hotel, which saw some 50 high-profile guests getting together and cost around $10,000, according to WHO employees.

Several Syria-based WHO public health experts have claimed that Magtymova called her staffers “cowards” and “retarded” on multiple occasions, the report said.  

Magtymova, who was previously WHO’s representative to Oman and emergency coordinator in Yemen, has described the accusations against her as “defamatory” when addressed for comments.

The WHO confirmed that a “protracted and complex investigation” has been underway against its representative in Syria, but declined to reveal any further details.