Syria’s lead of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Akjemal Magtymova, is under historic scrutiny involving more than 20 internal and external investigators looking into several allegations, including corruption, diversion of funds, deliberate violation of COVID-19 protocols and abuse of power.
In a series of confidential documents made available to the Associated Press, the Turkish-born medical doctor is being investigated for pressuring the WHO to sign shady contracts with high-ranking Syrian government politicians, misspending the organisation’s reliefs and donor funds as well as grievous psychological abuse of her colleagues and subordinates.
Financial reports showed that Ms Magtymova lavished $10,000 (over 25 million in Syrian pounds) on a party to herald her personal achievements as the country lead of the organisation at a time when the country was struggling to get supplies of COVID-19 vaccines.
Her colleagues also raised concerns about the agency’s inability to monitor its support of health facilities in Syria, but they received no response. Investigations later showed a worrisome “spot check” showing discrepancies between what the agency paid for and what was delivered to a health project in the northern part of the country.
She was also accused of bypassing qualified candidates to hire incompetent relatives of Syrian politicians, including politicians on watch lists of international human rights violations. This act of favouritism gave rise to scandals and reports of fraud and placed Syrian citizens at a disadvantage while discouraging potential donors.
Ms Magtymova also allegedly forced more than 100 subordinates to participate in a flash mob dance, tasking them to film the choreography, violating WHO coronavirus protocols when the disease was at its peak and refusing to encourage a remote work mode that was globally adopted to curb the spread of the virus.
The embattled WHO Syria head was also accused of not quarantining herself after she tested positive for COVID-19, infecting four of her colleagues. Six of her staffers further accused her of severally calling them “cowards” and “retarded.”
Also, in an action that could jeopardise the entire WHO humanitarian mission in the region through the violation of the United Nations neutrality principle, Ms Magtymova met with officials of the Russian military outside officially sanctioned relations.
The WHO said it had been one of its most complex investigations, giving no timeline for when the investigations will be concluded.
“It has been a protracted and complex investigation, with the situation in the country and the challenges of gaining appropriate access while ensuring the protection of staff, bringing additional complications. In view of the security situation, confidentiality and respect for due process do not allow us to comment further on the detailed allegations,” said WHO.
Ms Magtymova described the allegations as defamatory but refused to comment further. She is currently placed on leave pending the outcome of the investigation but continues to receive salaries.