Yousaf says conflict of interest suggestions over Gaza aid are ‘ludicrous’

Humza Yousaf has dismissed as “ludicrous” and “completely untrue” suggestions of a conflict of interest over his decision to give £250,000 to an aid agency in Gaza.

The First Minister had announced the donation to UNRWA as he met officials from the organisation on November 2 last year while his parents-in-law were among millions under siege in the enclave.

The Telegraph reported on Saturday that Mr Yousaf was being accused of overriding officials’ recommendations to give Unicef, a different UN agency, between £100,000 and £200,000.

The Scottish Government has said the money was allocated to UNRWA in response to a flash appeal for emergency aid as more than a million Palestinians in Gaza faced displacement amid the escalating conflict.

Conservative MSP Stephen Kerr, who sits on Holyrood’s standards committee, said the First Minister had “some serious explaining to do” and “may very well have broken the (Scottish ministerial) code”.

According to the paper, Mr Yousaf told officials that, since he was about to meet senior UNRWA delegates in Edinburgh, “we should just announce an extra £250k to them”.

A spokesperson for the First Minister said any suggestion of a conflict of interest in the matter amounted to a regurgitation of “far-right conspiracy theories to be found online.”

All international development fund allocations are guided by a rigorous process, they said.

“UNRWA had no role in the situation regarding the First Minister’s extended family and any suggestion of a conflict of interest in this matter would be completely untrue, and simply a regurgitation of ludicrous far-right conspiracy theories to be found online,” the spokesperson said.

“The record shows the First Minister’s actions were consistent with his obligations towards openness and honesty in the Scottish Ministerial Code.

“The decision not to restrict funding to water supplies was based on advice from officials, following discussions with UNRWA, Unicef and the British Red Cross, who all stressed the importance of flexibility in providing humanitarian support according to changing needs on the ground.”

UNRWA has since been at the centre of controversy surrounding Israeli accusations that members of its staff were involved in the October 7 attacks by Hamas that triggered the fighting.

Several countries, including the UK, have announced a pause in support for the relief agency while an investigation takes place after the allegations emerged in January.

UNRWA has sacked several of its employees and undertaken a review but urged donors to reconsider the funding suspension as it seeks to provide humanitarian assistance in Gaza.

Mr Yousaf’s parents-in-law were evacuated from the enclave via the Rafah crossing on November 3 2023.

The First Minister spoke publicly about their return at the time, saying the moment was “bittersweet” because “we are still in significant distress given the family that are still there but also the whole world is in distress at the scenes we are seeing unfold in Gaza.”