News / World

Role for Peruvian ex-first lady at UN food agency postponed

GENEVA — A U.N. food agency said Tuesday it is putting off the start of work for the former first lady of Peru after the country's government asked for her appointment to be scrapped amid an investigation into whether she received illegal payments.

The Food and Agricultural Organization said, however, that Nadine Heredia would remain a FAO employee while it "continues to monitor" her situation.

Heredia had been expected to take up a position this month as head of the FAO liaison office at the U.N. European headquarters in Geneva, a position that can confer immunity from prosecution under U.N. rules.

In Peru, she is being probed for allegedly receiving illegal payments from Brazilian construction firms and from the Venezuelan government when her husband, Ollanta Humala, was running for president in 2006 and 2011.

She is under a court order to appear every 30 days before judicial authorities in Peru. Peru's foreign minister has said her hiring constitutes interference in a judicial probe.

FAO said in a statement made publicly that it had a day earlier informed the government in Lima of the decision to postpone her "assumption of functions ... in view of current procedural developments in Peru."

The Rome-based agency said it would continue to monitor the situation "with the aim of identifying appropriate measures to apply in the specific circumstance at hand."

It also defended Heredia's appointment, which followed a "transparent" recruitment process that involved an independent evaluation of her management skills.

"FAO considers that the basic principle that a person is presumed innocent until proven otherwise must be maintained and followed," FAO said.

"The organization is fully aware of its duty to co-operate at all times with the authorities of its member states to facilitate the administration of justice, as well as to avoid any abuse relating to prerogatives, immunities or any other benefits that may derive from the general conventions governing civil servants working for U.N. organizations."