U.N. chief puts technology envoy on leave over harassment inquiry

NEW YORK (Reuters) - United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has placed his technology envoy on administrative leave, days after announcing the appointment, while the world body investigates accusations of abuse of authority and harassment.

Three women filed complaints with the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) in the past two months accusing veteran U.N. official Fabrizio Hochschild of abuse of authority and harassment in 2019 and 2020, according to three sources familiar with the matter, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The complaints accuse Hochschild of creating a toxic work environment through bullying, aggressive outbursts, inappropriate remarks and phone calls and messages at all hours, the three sources told Reuters.

Hochschild said he was made aware of the complaints on Wednesday and promised to cooperate with the investigation.

“I was informed of their existence but have not yet been informed in any manner about what they are grounded in or anything else specific. I am learning about this from the press, he told Reuters on Thursday. “I will cooperate fully with any OIOS inquiry as soon as I am contacted.”

The formal complaints were made weeks before Guterres announced on Friday that Hochschild, of Chile, would be his technology envoy to enlist global support for digital cooperation. The United Nations informed him on Wednesday that he would be put on administrative leave.

Staff in Guterres’ executive office were aware in December that one of the women planned to make a formal complaint, according to correspondence seen by Reuters.

“The Secretary-General was informed on 27 January that OIOS had received complaints and would launch an investigation,” said U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric. He said OIOS is independent from the U.N. secretariat and he could not comment on the investigation.

“Mr Hochschild will be placed on administrative leave while the investigation is ongoing. Once he receives the results of the investigation, the Secretary-General will act swiftly and take the appropriate actions on the findings,” Dujarric said.

He said Guterres had asked OIOS to “conduct its investigation with priority and in a comprehensive manner.”

From April 2019, Hochschild was Guterres’ special adviser on preparations for the 75th U.N. anniversary. Prior to that he spent two years as Assistant Secretary-General for Strategic Coordination in Guterres’ Executive Office.

When his appointment as technology envoy was announced, Hochschild described himself on Twitter last Friday as “a relative newcomer to the tech field.”

When asked about his qualifications, Dujarric said on Monday: “What Mr. Hochschild brings to the table is ... having dealt with this issue for a bit of time within the U.N., but I think also the ability to bring different stakeholders together.”

Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Mary Milliken and Howard Goller