Dr. Kasai Takeshi, director of the World Health Organization’s Western Pacific Regional Office, was reportedly placed on indefinite leave months after facing allegations of abusive and racist behavior.
More than 30 current and former employees filed an internal complaint in January accusing the Japanese official of creating a “toxic atmosphere,” which allegedly compromised the office’s response to COVID-19 in the region. The news, which was first reported by the Associated Press, prompted an internal investigation announced by WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus himself.
The complaint accused Kasai of blaming certain countries’ infection surges for their “lack of capacity due to their inferior culture, race and socioeconomic level.” In one instance, he allegedly questioned a female Filipino staffer, “How many people in the Pacific have you killed so far, and how many more do you want to kill further?” before asking if she was “incapable of delivering good presentations, because she was a Filipina.”
Kasai has also been accused of sharing data with Japan to help it plan its donations for political advantage. Additionally, he allegedly pressured staffers to prioritize Japanese donations over the United Nations’ COVAX push.
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In April, employees alleged that Kasai had been manipulating the internal probe. The official purportedly ordered the destruction of any incriminating documents and told IT staff “to monitor emails of all the staff members.”
Without elaborating, Tedros told Western Pacific employees on Friday that Kasai was “on leave.” Two unidentified senior officials also told the Associated Press that Kasai was on extended administrative leave after investigators found supporting evidence on his alleged misconduct.
Prior to Kasai’s removal, his office had planned a town hall to address “workplace culture” this week. However, the event — which supposedly would have tackled abuse and racism, among other issues — was postponed.
Kasai, for his part, has vehemently rejected all allegations. He admitted to being “hard on staff” but denied targeting any particular nationality. He also refuted claims of pressuring employees to prioritize Japanese vaccine donations.
Kasai will be temporarily replaced by Deputy Director-General Dr. Zsuzsanna Jakab, Reuters reported.