Guerra served as the WHO's liaison with the Italian government after Italy became the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak in Europe last year.
Italian prosecutors on Friday, April 9, revealed private communications that are likely to embarrass Guerra and the WHO. They outlined their allegations in an interim investigative document sent to Italy’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Justice.
The document listed Guerra as one of six people under investigation in their probe. Guerra was the WHO assistant director-general when he voluntarily agreed to be questioned by prosecutors in November 2020. He has not been charged with any crime.
Guerra told news agency Agenzia Giornalistica Italia that he was shocked and "deeply embittered" that prosecutors had placed him under investigation and that he expected the WHO to respond to them. He also made himself available for further clarifications.
"I have been and am in absolute good faith and I am amazed that the prosecutors have a different impression," said Guerra, adding that he told prosecutors everything he knew at the time but did not have access to all information.
Prior to the current investigation, prosecutors were investigating whether Italy's lack of preparedness going into the pandemic played a role in the huge COVID-19 death toll in Bergamo. Their probe expanded to include a WHO report into Italy's coronavirus response, which revealed that the Italian government hadn't updated its pandemic preparedness plan since 2006.
The WHO pulled the report from its website on May 14 last year, a day after it went up, and never republished it. Guerra had been in charge of prevention at the Italian Ministry of Health from 2014 to 2017 when the pandemic preparedness plan should have been updated to comply with the directives of the European Union.
When pressed whether Guerra or the Italian government had intervened to pull the report, the WHO said that it was removed by its regional office in Copenhagen due to "factual inaccuracies."
However, documentation compiled by Bergamo prosecutors indicated that Guerra maneuvered to have the report taken down and that the Italian government was upset with it. The documentation included private WhatsApp chats between Guerra and a top Italian public health official, Dr. Silvio Brusaferro.
In one chat, dated May 14, 2020, Guerra told Brusaferro that the decision to pull the report was known to the leadership of the WHO: "In the end I went to Tedros and got the document removed," Guerra wrote, making a reference to WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. (Related: China sympathizer and WHO director Tedros Ghebreyesus was ranking member of violent Communist movement in Ethiopia.)
In another chat four days later, Guerra told Brusaferro that he was meeting with the Italian health minister's cabinet chief about revising the report and that the minister's office "said to see if we can make it fall into thin air."
The prosecutors noted that Guerra's comments to them were contradicted by facts. They concluded that "Guerra personally worked on the removal of the report from the WHO site."
Meanwhile, the WHO press office told the Associated Press via email that Ghebreyesus was not involved in removing the report and insisted that the decision was done by the Copenhagen office.
"The director-general was not involved himself in the development, publishing or withdrawal of the report," the email said, reiterating that it was removed because it "contained inaccuracies and inconsistencies" and had been published prematurely.
An email had previously shown that Guerra tried to have Dr. Francesco Zambon, one of the report's main authors, alter data in the report before it was published to say that Italy had "updated" its pandemic plan in 2016.
In an interview with the Associated Press, Zambon cited a May 11, 2020 email from Guerra telling him to "correct" the date to show that the plan had been "last updated in 2016." He said Guerra followed up with a phone call that he described as threatening.
Zambon refused and filed an internal ethics complaint with the WHO in May last year, alleging that Guerra had tried to pressure him to change the data. "We couldn't really say that the plan was updated because it was not true," said Zambon, who related that he suffered from retaliation for speaking out. He recently resigned.
According to Zambon, the only inaccuracy in the spiked document was an out-of-date timeline of the virus in China that he removed immediately. The scandal over the report's withdrawal has made headlines in Italy amid suggestions that the WHO yanked the report to save the Italian government from criticism, embarrassment and liability.
In an interview with La7, Guerra said the earlier plan was considered "current" up until the release of new WHO guidelines in 2018. However, critics say the 2006 plan contains holes in its implementation phases that can help explain Italy's critical shortage of protective equipment and chaotic initial response to COVID-19. (Related: Italy locks down 50,000 people across 10 towns as coronavirus outbreak leapfrogs across Europe.)
Guerra apparently disregarded WHO legal advice in November that told WHO officials they were under no obligation to respond to Italian prosecutors' requests for questioning, given their diplomatic immunity as U.N. officials. He ended up under investigation because of what the prosecutors called "false declarations."
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