Italian prosecutors say a top World Health Organization (WHO) official lied to them about a tampered WHO report into Italy’s coronavirus response, revealing private communications Friday that are likely to embarrass the United Nations health agency.
Prosecutors in Bergamo placed Dr. Ranieri Guerra, at the time a WHO assistant director general, under investigation for allegedly making false declarations to them when he voluntarily agreed to be questioned in November. Guerra was the WHO’s liaison with the Italian government after Italy became the epicenter of the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) outbreak in Europe last year.
They have not charged Guerra with any crime, outlining their allegations in an interim investigative document sent to the Italian foreign and justice ministries that listed him as one of six people under investigation in their probe.
Guerra did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment. The Agi news agency quoted him as saying he was shocked and “deeply embittered” that prosecutors had placed him under investigation, that he expected WHO to respond to them and remained available for further clarification.
“I have been and am in absolute good faith and I am amazed that the prosecutors have a different impression,” Agi quoted him as saying. Guerra added that he told prosecutors everything he knew at the time but did not have access to all information.
Prosecutors are investigating the huge Covid-19 death toll in Bergamo and whether Italy’s lack of preparedness going into the Covid-10 pandemic played a role. Their probe expanded to include the spiked WHO report into Italy’s virus response, which revealed that the Italian government did not update its pandemic preparedness since 2006.
WHO pulled the report from its website on May 14, a day after it went up, and never republished it. The document’s disappearance suggested that WHO removed it to spare the Italian government criticism, embarrassment and liability.
Guerra was a top official in the Italian health ministry during 2014-2017, when the pandemic preparedness plan should have been updated to comply with European Union directives.
When asked at the time whether Guerra or the Italian government had intervened to spike the report, the WHO said it was removed by its regional office in Copenhagen due to “factual inaccuracies.”