Former WHO Assistant Director General Ranieri Guerra Indicted in Italy  
WHO Assistant Director General, Ranieri Guerra

Italian prosecutors in Bergamo have indicted Ranieri Guerra, a former World Health Organization (WHO) Assistant Director General, for making false statements before a public prosecutor about his role in the suppression of a major WHO report on Italy’s response to the pandemic. 

The WHO report had criticized the Italian government for failing to update a pandemic preparedness plan prior to the COVID outbreak – and at a time when Guerra was in fact in charge of updating the plan as the Italian Ministry of Health’s General Director for Prevention. 

Published on WHO’s website on May 13, 2020, and deleted a day later, the 102-page report “An Unprecedented Challenge”, revealed that the country’s pandemic preparedness plan had not been updated since 2006 – despite European Union instructions to countries to update their plans in 2013-2014 – when Guerra was in charge.

“Just one word: Finally,” tweeted Francesco Zambon, the whistleblower who left WHO in protest over the suppression of the report, in response to news of the indictments.  

Speaking to Health Policy Watch, Zambon added that “after three years no investigation whatsoever was conducted by WHO to assess the illicit conduct that I denounced, which concerned some of the most senior officials in the organization.” 

Guerra, a WHO ADG for special initiatives, was dispatched exceptionally by WHO’s Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to Italy in early 2020 to support the initial phase of the country’s pandemic response – as one of the first and hardest hit countries in the world initially. 

A few months later, WHO’s Venice Office, under the direction of Francesco Zambon prepared an independent WHO report on Italy’s pandemic response, that frankly addressed Italy’s lack of an updated preparedness plan, in just a few phrases. 

After seeing a draft of the report, Guerra demanded that the language referring to the lack of preparedness, be redacted.  When Zambon refused, the report was deleted from WHO’s website – only a day after its publication. 

At the time, Guerra publicly denied that he had had a role in suppressing the report – which had sought to highlight both the successes as well as the weaknesses in Italy’s pandemic response. 

However a series of publications in both the Italian media and abroad, including in Health Policy Watch, revealed a trail of emails that reflected the pressure Guerra had applied on Zambon and his superiors in WHO’s European Office to have the report redacted and then suppressed. 

Following that, other revelations in the Italian media suggested that Guerra had even bragged to Italian officials about his role in convincing WHO’s Regional Director for Europe, Hans Kluge and others to delete the report.

It was on the basis of those communications that Guerra was finally indicted by Bergamo legal authorities.  WHO, meanwhile, staunchly stood by Guerra, refusing to answer questions about his role – citing UN immunity. 

Zambon ultimately resigned in protest after being frozen out of his management role at the Venice office. 

Speaking to Health Policy Watch on Friday, Zambon said of the indictment: “Yes, it is quite a big thing actually. It would be worth noting that, after three years, no investigation whatsoever was conducted by WHO to assess the illicit conduct that I denounced, which was about the highest officials in the organization. 

“Nor was any apology provided to me for being a whistleblower who tried to protect WHO from scandals. To the very contrary, WHO continues stating I am not a whistleblower as – in their opinion – there was no retaliation. Even Transparency International and 40plus organizations wrote to Tedros about this untenable position. They never got a reply.

“WHO lost a huge opportunity of being a credible and transparent agency towards national authorities. Also not being compliant with the same privileges that it benefits from, which unequivocally states that immunity MUST be waived when interfering with a national investigation. This certainly was the case.

“I wonder and I ask citizens of the world: where is WHO’S accountability? How much should the world wait for having a ground-shaking reform permitting WHO to be at the ethical standard it should be?”

Reportedly Guerra is also under investigation for “neglect of official duties” in relation to his failure to update the 2006 pandemic preparedness plan during the time in which he served as head of prevention. 

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