The curious case of Lisa Emelia Svensson and the UNEP

Lisa Emelia SvenssonPhoto: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development / Flickr

Is Lisa Emelia Svensson really a Swedish ocean ambassador, as Jeffrey Epstein appears to have claimed in emails to Ghislaine Maxwell? And does Svensson work in the field of oceans for the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)?

As an introduction, these are some of the alleged emails (which we’ve covered in further detail here) revealed on July 31, 2020 that appeared to name Lisa Emelia Svensson in the ongoing Ghislaine Maxwell case.

The text “i had lisa svenson the swedish ocean ambassador  yesteady she said no one on her ocean panel takes this stuff seriously and you would be welcoe to the ocean conferenec water conference etc.” seems to be from January 25, 2015. And “lisa svenson the swedish ocean ambassador” appears to refer to Swedish-native Lisa Emelia Svensson.

Before, during, and after 2015, Svensson did serve in roles related to oceans, Sweden, and ambassadorship. According to her LinkedIn page at the time of writing:

  • 2012-2015: She was Ambassador for Oceans, Seas, and Fresh Water at the Swedish Ministry of the Environment.
  • 2015-2016: She was Ambassador, Special Representative of the Minister for Foreign Affairs in Stockholm.
  • September 2016-present: She has been Global Director for Ocean at United Nation Environment in Nairobi.

During our coverage of the alleged Epstein emails, we reached out to some of Svensson’s employers.

What we found was that – contrary to her personal LinkedIn page – it appears Svensson was never a “Director” for the UNEP, and that she isn’t currently carrying out any functions for the UNEP at all.

The truth on Svensson’s current status at the UNEP

On August 3, 2020, we first reached out to the UNEP (and other employers) for further information. This was part of our general inquiry relating to the alleged Epstein emails.

On August 4, 2020, the UNEP told us: “Ms. Svensson was head of the oceans branch at UN Environment Programme (UNEP) from 2016 to 2019.

On October 12, 2020, a UNEP spokesperson further clarified Svensson’s status at the UNEP.

Ms. Svensson is on special leave without pay. Her title was Coordinator, Marine and Coastal Ecosystems Branch, Ecosystems Division. Since is she on Special Leave Without Pay, she is currently not performing this role.”

So, why does Svensson’s LinkedIn headline currently read “Global Director for Ocean, United Nation Environment”? It remains unclear.

Her LinkedIn account isn’t inactive; it appears that Svensson has been actively using her LinkedIn as recently as early October 2020.

Was an official UN investigation related to Svensson’s departure?

The reasons for Lisa Emelia Svensson’s alleged departure from the UNEP in 2019 also remain unclear.

In 2018, PassBlue published an alleged email sent to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, UNEP Executive Director Erik Solheim and the senior management of UNEP and many others in the wider UN system from what appear to be disgruntled employees of the UNEP at the time.

The alleged email seems to be composed of a long list of complaints against former Norwegian Minister and then-Executive Director of the UNEP Erik Solheim, which include a mention of Svensson:

In contrast, you, Sir, have approved that your friend, a D1, Lisa Svensson can work from Europe, because for personal reasons she does not wish to work in Nairobi. Her big office in Nairobi remains vacant with her name and organisational equipment while the same has to be provided again by another office in Europe. She leads the marine team remotely as the rest of the staff under her responsibility are in Nairobi.

When asked whether they could confirm this alleged email, the UN spokesperson told us: “We can’t comment on the authenticity of an anonymous email, but can confirm that UNEP’s official travel was the subject of an audit by the Office of Internal Oversight Services in 2018.”

An official investigation, corresponding to many of the points from the alleged email published by PassBlue, was indeed carried out by the Internal Audit Division of the UN’s Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS).

The report is dated November 16, 2018, and titled “Audit of official travel at the United Nations Environment Programme”. It can be found and downloaded on the official OIOS website here.

A section of the report reads:

Two managers whose posts were based in Nairobi were allowed to work out of UNEP’s office in Paris under teleworking arrangements. The managers explained that the arrangements were authorized due to family considerations. However, OIOS established that the teleworking arrangements were not in accordance with ST/SGB/2003/4 on FWA, as explained below.

The managers’ identities are left anonymous in the official report, but we asked the UNEP spokesperson if they could confirm whether Svensson was allowed to work from Europe and not Kenya at any time?

They told us: “The staff member was permitted to work from Europe under a telecommuting compact signed with the then-Executive Director. This arrangement ended on 28 September 2018.”

This arrangement appears to be one of those found to be a breach of UN regulations in the official report.

Following the investigation, then-Executive Director Solheim was asked to resign by UN Secretary-General António Guterres. Solheim left the UNEP in late November of 2018.

When asked whether Dr. Svensson’s departure from being head of the UNEP’s oceans branch in 2019 is tied with the Erik Solheim investigation, the UNEP spokesperson told us:

The staff member stopped serving as Coordinator of the Marine and Freshwater Branch when she took special leave without pay.

“Special leave without pay”

What does taking special leave without pay mean? The official UN Human Resources website gives more information:

Is it possible to take Special Leave without pay (SLWOP) for personal reasons? For how long and what reasons are acceptable?

Special leave without pay is granted at the discretion of the Secretary-General. Special leave can normally be authorized for up to two years. The acceptable reasons for special leave are advance studies and research in the interest of the United Nations, extended illness, child care, family support, mandatory military service, and other. For eligibility requirements, please refer to staff rule 5.3.

The reasons for Svensson taking special leave without pay remain unclear.

Why the discrepancies?

The UNEP spokesperson told us that “UNEP does not control staff members’ LinkedIn pages.”

The UN’s official Staff Rules reads, in the “Specific instances of prohibited conduct” section: “Staff members shall not intentionally misrepresent their functions, official title or the nature of their duties to Member States or to any entities or persons external to the United Nations.

The reason for the discrepancies between the UNEP’s and Svensson’s presentation of her role at the UNEP also remain unclear.

The cover photo of this article, by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, was retrieved from here per CC BY-SA 2.0. ​

Source: Norway Today


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