UN refugee chief denies he sexually harassed worker

Ruud Lubbers, the former Prime Minister of the Netherlands and the serving High Commissioner for Refugees at the United Nations, has denied allegations that he sexually harassed a female member of his staff inside his Geneva offices last year.

Mr Lubbers, a highly respected figure on the world stage, confirmed, however, that officials from the United Nations Office of Internal Oversight Services have begun a formal investigation into a claim lodged against him by the woman last month.

The charge could prove devastating for Mr Lubbers, 65, and a source of new embarrassment for the UN. The world body is already facing a widening investigation into alleged corruption at the heart of the oil-for-food programme for Iraq that may have involved the illegal skimming of billions of pounds. The woman, who has not been named, is reportedly an American in her forties who has worked for the UN for 20 years.

She filed her claim only after agonising for months with lawyers at the refugee agency. Her complaint describes an incident that allegedly occurred when she and five male staff members at the agency were leaving a meeting in the office of Mr Lubbers in December last year. She told other staff members at the time that she was "shocked and horrified" by what had happened, The New York Times reported.

"The complaint refers to a formal meeting in my office on 18 December, 2003," Mr Lubbers said in a statement. "The meeting was attended by five other staff members. The complaint was filed on 27 April of this year, more than four months after the alleged harassment. In that meeting of last 18 December, there was no improper behaviour on my part."

Mr Lubbers, who is married with three children, led the Netherlands from 1982 until 1994. A father-figure of the Christian Democrat Party, he holds the record as his country's longest serving Prime Minister.

In 2000, Mr Lubbers was selected by the UN's General Assembly to head the refugee agency. The agency has some 6,000 staff members working in 115 different countries. His tenure was extended by the assembly last year and is due to expire at the end of next year.

The allegations against Mr Lubbers hit him as he arrived in Washington DC yesterday to hold talks with members of the Bush administration, including Secretary of State Colin Powell, about the increasingly desperate humanitarian crisis in western Sudan.

It is only two years since the refugee agency was bruised by revelations that some locally hired workers in refugee camps in West Africa had been been taking sexual advantage of children in return for promises of food. No UN staff members were implicated in a subsequent investigation. "There is absolutely no place in the humanitarian world for those who would prey on the most innocent and vulnerable of the world's refugees, the children," Mr Lubbers said at the time. "There must be zero tolerance."

Little headway has been made in the investigation into corruption inside the oil-for-food programme, under which sales of Iraqi oil prior to the toppling of Saddam Hussein helped buy the country food and medicines.

The coalition authority in Baghdad has asked the accounting firm Ernst & Young to look into the allegations, but members of the Iraqi Governing Council have demanded that they be allowed to oversee the investigation.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Building Manager / Head Porter

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This award winning Property Man...

Recruitment Genius: Medical Copywriter / Account Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join an awa...

Recruitment Genius: Transport Clerk / Debriefer

£16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading temperature contro...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Marketer

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific