Liberians were dying in their thousands from the Ebola epidemic that plagued the country in 2014 while donor funds sent to the Liberia National Red Cross Society to fight the deadly virus were being fraudulently stolen by staffs, an investigation has confirmed.
The International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) admitted that US$2.7M remain unaccounted and being investigated, while it is confirmed that some US$200,000 were fraudulently applied.
In a recent exclusive interview with the BBC, the Secretary General of IFRC, Elhadj As Sy, said, “In Liberia, we estimate about US$200,000 which were fraudulent – confirmed – and we are further investigating over a million dollar that can still be at risk.”
The investigation found that in Liberia the prices of relief goods and payrolls were inflated to the tune of US$2.6M.
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.”
In March 2017 President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf dissolved the Liberia National Red Cross Board and ordered the management of the organization’s activities suspended pending investigation over suspected financial misappropriation.
The President later invited both members of the dissolved board and the management team on meeting to discuss an issue that threatened to destroy the image of the Liberia National Red Cross Society (LNRCS).
The Executive Mansion said in a press release that the dissolution of the board was triggered by “unfolding events” that needed “deeper” investigation.
Reports indicated that an international audit sanctioned by the International Federation of the Red Cross (IFRC) last year revealed that officials of the LNRCS misappropriated over US$1.8 million donated to fight the outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus disease.
The audit, conducted by the London-headquartered Moore Stephens International, also indicted several top officials of the organization for alleged embezzlement. Some were accused of receiving kickbacks through a fraudulent bidding scheme for the procurement of anti-Ebola materials.
The President of the Liberian Red Cross Society, Emmanuel Kparh, had resisted calls for his resignation to pave way for an uninterrupted investigation.
Like all national societies, the LNRCS is an affiliate of the IFRC which has since suspended its funding to the national branch.
Under pressure three senior local officials were subsequently suspended in connection with that audit report. But since then revelations from internal investigations have continued to appear in local media report.
“President Sirleaf took the decisions … following a careful review of events unfolding at the Liberian National Red Cross Society.
The Liberian Leader has further cited all members of the dissolved Board of Directors as well as members of the Management Team on Thursday to a meeting on March 10, 2016 in order to look deeper into the current situation at the Liberian National Red Cross Society,” the Executive Mansion statement reads in part.