Red Cross, bank staff fingered in Ebola scam

Red Cross, bank staff fingered in Ebola scam

A team of volunteers from the Nigerian Red Cross are going door to door in Ugep to distribute and hang mosquito nets up in every household.

Red Cross staff allegedly colluded in corruption amounting to 6 million dollars (R85 million) during the Ebola epidemic, the organisation confirmed on Sunday in Geneva.

“We are outraged at the evidence we have uncovered of fraud during our West Africa Ebola operations,” said Jemilah Mahmood, Under-Secretary General of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC).

The deadly Ebola virus killed some 11,000 people between 2014 and 2016 in the region, triggering a large and complex humanitarian operation that involved numerous international organisations.

An internal audit has revealed “likely collusion between former IFRC staff and employees of a bank in Sierra Leone that led to a potential financial loss of 2.13 million Swiss francs (about R28 million),” according to a Red Cross statement that became publicly known on the weekend.

In addition, fraud by a customs service provider in Guinea created an estimated cost of 1.17 million francs (nearly R17 million)

The IFRC also said that earlier reported investigations in Liberia had uncovered evidence that 2.7 million francs (about R38 million) were lost because of inflated prices for relief items and payments for volunteers.

The IFRC said it wants to hold all involved persons to account and plans to reclaim the lost money.

In Guinea and Liberia, IFRC and national Red Cross staff were involved in the alleged corruption, respectively, a Red Cross spokesperson told dpa.

The involved people no longer work for the Red Cross, and staff who failed to detect or prevent fraud have also been let go, he added.

“These cases must not in any way diminish the tremendous courage and dedication of thousands of volunteers and staff during the Ebola response,” Mahmood said, pointing to Red Cross efforts to treat patients and to bury the dead – a task that helped to prevent further cases.

“These cases occurred amidst a massive surge and scale-up of humanitarian operations,” she explained.

The IFRC probe was pushed along by the corruption watchdog Transparency International, which warned already in 2015 that the large and rapid inflow of aid to West Africa could expose humanitarian agencies to fraud.

Transparency International had therefore asked aid groups to make their audits public.

A World Health Organisation spokesperson contacted by dpa could not immediately say whether his UN agency has conducted a similar audit. dpa