Exclusive: Senior U.N. Official Fired, Referred to Criminal Authorities for Alleged Sexual Misconduct

Ravi Karkara, a United Nations senior adviser accused of sexual misconduct against younger male subordinates, was fired from his role at the U.N. Entity for Gender Equality Monday, after nearly 15 months of investigation.

"The investigative and disciplinary processes into allegations involving a U.N. Women staff member have concluded that sexual misconduct occurred," Phumzile Mlambo-Ngucka, executive director of U.N. Women, said in a statement Monday. "As a result, I have dismissed the staff member; this is the strongest disciplinary measure available… the staff member is prohibited from employment at the U.N."

Mlambo-Ngucka said that U.N. Women "stands ready to cooperate with any national authority that decides to investigate" the staff member whom five sources close to the investigation identified to Newsweek as Ravi Karkara, senior adviser to the Assistant-Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director of U.N. Women. Investigative agencies in India, Canada and the United States may now begin investigations and possible criminal prosecution. Mlambo-Ngucka "confirmed emphatically" that Karkara did not have diplomatic immunity for his alleged misconduct because it involved acts and deeds unrelated to his work duties.

An Indian national and a New York City resident, Karkara did not respond to repeated requests for comment from Newsweek on Monday, or dating back to December 2017. He has been on administrative leave from the U.N. gender equality group for more than a year. An associate of Karkara's who works at U.N. Women said in August that Karkara denied the allegations, but could not speak publicly while the investigation continued.

U.N. Women received the file on the Karkara probe from the investigative office of U.N. Development Group in late August, and leaders discussed those findings and possible disciplinary responses at their executive board meetings last week. On Sunday, U.N. Women informed one alleged victim of the disciplinary action against Karkara, and on Monday the group issued a press release to formally announce Karkara's firing and referral to other authorities.

It is not known at this time whether the FBI, Canadian Royal Mounted Police, Indian National Investigation Agency or any local or state agencies where Karkara's alleged misconduct occurred will investigate him.

"I hope that [Karkara] will have the decency to allow his victims peace and closure, and that justice will be expedited," said Kerry Gibson, U.N. Women Planet 5050 champion and CEO of EcoCentury Technologies in Vancouver. "He has put word out that he is shocked by the allegations. Having known intimately his patterns of manipulation, excuses to garner pity, and gaslighting, it is my belief that he is merely shocked that he was caught."

U.N. Women sexual harassment spokesperson Purna Sen said the "very clear and quick response" from U.N. Women after the investigation wrapped up should send a message about how seriously the organization takes sexual misconduct allegations.

"Our big message is, we will take stock, we will have a conversation internally now to see if we are doing our best, and if not what that would entail," Sen said Monday. "We are extremely sad and unhappy that this has happened, but we're pleased that the investigation has come to a conclusion, though it's taken too long."

Newsweek first reported that the investigation into Karkara began in June 2017 when Steve Lee, a Canadian policy activist, and Gibson separately filed complaints against Karkara and were interviewed by U.N. investigators. Lee said Karkara harassed him for more than a year with sexual innuendo and harassment, culminating with an incident in a Montreal hotel room in which Karkara grabbed his crotch without consent. Gibson said the behavior constituted nonsexual workplace misconduct.

Other alleged victims confirmed similar behavior by Karkara. A member of the British Parliament, Lloyd-Russell Moyle, told Newsweek in August that Karkara sent him photos of his genitalia over the dating app Grindr and harassed him nonsexually in the workplace. Another former colleague, Junaid Mandoori, said Karkara fixated on him for months in chats and text messages, asking him out and requesting nude photos and masturbation videos. Mandoori said he left the international aid community because of Karkara's harassment.

The former organizing partner of U.N. Major Group for Children and Youth, Aashish Khullar, said he helped eight young people in his organization file complaints and speak to OAI investigators against Karkara. "While [Karkara] might be one of the worst ones, there are more like him in the system," Khullar said. "We need to focus on building a system where people like him will not be able to move around with impunity and will be brought to task swiftly. Even one incident overlooked is one too many."

U.N. Women announced the U.N. Development Group's investigation without naming the subject in December 2017.

Mlambo-Ngcuka said last month that the 15-month sexual misconduct investigation into Karkara "has been a source of pain for months," and criticized the length of the investigation, conducted by the U.N. Development Program's Office of Audit and Investigation, by saying that "justice delayed is justice denied."

"No entity, society or institution is immune to sexual misconduct, not even U.N. Women," Mlambo-Ngcuka said then.

International human rights activist Mandy Sanghera, another U.N. Women Planet 5050 champion, also criticized the length of the investigation and the emotional toll it took on the alleged victims and their advocates.

"We need to learn some serious lessons from this," Sanghera said from London. "We can't carry out long internal investigations when it comes to abuse allegations. We need to start safeguarding victims and reporting their abusers' behavior to the police. The victims need counseling, support and help moving on."