Red Cross says $6 million for Ebola fight stolen through fraud

People pass a banner reading 'STOP EBOLA' forming part of Sierra Leone's Ebola free campaign in the city of Freetown, Sierra Leone, in this Jan. 15, 2016 file photo. (AP Photo/Aurelie Marrier d'Unienville, file)
Updated 04 November 2017

Red Cross says $6 million for Ebola fight stolen through fraud

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone: Fraud by Red Cross workers and others wasted at least $6 million meant to fight the deadly Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the organization confirmed Saturday.
The revelations follow an internal investigation of how the organization handled more than $124 million during the 2014-2016 epidemic that killed more than 11,000 people in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.
The disease erupted in Guinea and quickly spread to Sierra Leone and Liberia. The international aid response was initially slow, and money once it arrived was often disbursed quickly in the rush to purchase supplies and get aid workers into the field.
As much as $2.13 million disappeared as the result of “likely collusion” between Red Cross staff and employees at a Sierra Leonean bank, the investigation found. It is believed that the money was lost when they improperly fixed the exchange rate at the height of the epidemic.
The International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said it was “outraged” by what it had uncovered, and was strengthening its efforts to fight corruption, including introducing cash spending limits in “high-risk settings.” It also plans to send trained auditors along with emergency operations teams. Other measures will include additional staff training and “the establishment of a dedicated and independent internal investigation function.”
“These cases must not in any way diminish the tremendous courage and dedication of thousands of volunteers and staff during the Ebola response. They played a critical and widely recognized role in containing and ending the outbreak, and preventing further spread of the Ebola virus internationally,” said Dr. Jemilah Mahmood, the IFRC under secretary general for partnerships.
“We are pursuing every possible avenue to reclaim all funds that have been misappropriated, diverted, or otherwise illegally taken. This includes working with authorities in affected countries and elsewhere as appropriate.”
The findings of the internal investigation were first posted online Oct. 20 but were not widely publicized until Friday. The IFRC confirmed the findings Saturday and said it was working with Sierra Leone’s Anti-Corruption Commission to “investigate and legally pursue any persons involved.”
IFRC also revealed evidence of fraud in the two other hardest-hit countries during the Ebola crisis.
In Liberia, investigators found “evidence of fraud related to inflated prices of relief items, payroll and payment of volunteer incentives.” IFRC estimated the loss at $2.7 million.
And in Guinea, at least $1.17 million disappeared because of fraudulent billing practices by a customs clearance service provider. Two other investigations there are pending, IFRC said.
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Associated Press writer Jamey Keaten in Geneva contributed.


Myanmar rejects court probe into crimes against Rohingyas

This file photo taken on September 27, 2017 shows and aerial view of burnt villages near Maungdaw in Myanmar's northern Rakhine state. (AFP)
Updated 5 min 35 sec ago

Myanmar rejects court probe into crimes against Rohingyas

  • The court’s position is that because Myanmar’s alleged atrocities sent more than 700,000 Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh for safety, it does have jurisdiction since Bangladesh is a party to the court and the case may involve forced deportation

YANGON: Myanmar’s government rejected the International Criminal Court’s decision to allow prosecutors to open an investigation into crimes committed against the Rohingya Muslim minority.
Government spokesman Zaw Htay said that Myanmar stood by its position that the Netherlands-based court has no jurisdiction over its actions.
His statement was the first official reaction since the court agreed on Thursday  to proceed with the case.
Zaw Htay cited a Myanmar Foreign Ministry statement from April 2018 that because Myanmar was not a party to the agreement establishing the court, it did not need to abide by the court’s rulings.
“It has already been expressed in the statement that the investigation over Myanmar by the ICC is not in accordance with international law,” he said in the Myanmar capital Naypyitaw.
The court’s position is that because Myanmar’s alleged atrocities sent more than 700,000 Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh for safety, it does have jurisdiction since Bangladesh is a party to the court and the case may involve forced deportation.
Last year’s statement charged that the court’s prosecutor, by claiming jurisdiction, was attempting “to override the principle of national sovereignty and non-interference in the internal affairs of other states.”
The 2018 statement also said Myanmar’s position was that it “has not deported any individuals in the areas of concern and in fact has worked hard in collaboration with Bangladesh to repatriate those displaced from their homes.”
However, there still has been no official repatriation of the Rohingya, and human rights activists charge that Myanmar has not established safe conditions for their return.
Zaw Htay said that Myanmar has already set up its own Independent Commission of Inquiry, which was making progress in its investigations. He noted that the military as well had established a Court of Enquiry.
“If we find abuses (of human rights), we will take action according to the law,” he said.
An independent UN fact-finding mission that collected extensive evidence that it said shows that trials for genocide and crimes against humanity are merited declared earlier this year that justice could not be fairly served by judicial processes inside Myanmar. It said an international mechanism or process was needed for accountability.
Gambia, on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, filed a case on Monday at the International Court of Justice accusing Myanmar of genocide in its treatment of the Rohingya.
The International Court of Justice settles disputes between nations, while The International Criminal Court seeks to convict individuals responsible for crimes. Both courts are based in The Hague.