$6 Million Meant to Fight Ebola Stolen Through Fraud at the Red Cross

(ANTIMEDIA) West Africa — Following an internal investigation, the Red Cross has reported that during its 2014-2016 Ebola operations in West Africa — operations the organization says were among the “most complex in recent humanitarian history” — around $6 million of its funding was lost through fraud committed by its own staff.

The revelation came by way of a statement published on the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) website on October 20, though it went largely unnoticed until early November.

In the face of the deadliness of the outbreak — one that eventually took the lives of over 11,300, mostly in the countries of Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia — IFRC “rapidly established and expanded offices, deployed staff, and procured significant stockpiles of medical and operational supplies,” it says.

Apparently, all this rushing about left gaps in the organization’s oversight that were a little too tempting for some of its employees. In Sierra Leone, IFRC found “likely collusion” between workers and a local bank that led to the loss of $2.13 million.

In Guinea, around $1.17 million was lost due to fraudulent billing practices, IFRC says. And in Liberia, the organization “uncovered evidence of fraud related to inflated prices of relief items, payroll and payment of volunteer incentives” that led to the theft of $2.7 million.

In the statement, IFRC says it’s “outraged” by the discovery and that it has “zero tolerance” for fraud. It goes on to say it is “committed to full transparency and accountability to our partners and the communities we stand with” and that this “must not in any way diminish” the overall good accomplished by its efforts.

This sentiment was echoed by Dr. Jemilah Mahmood, IFRC undersecretary general for partnerships, who told the Associated Press:

“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.”

He added that IFRC is not taking the discovery lying down:

“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.”

In light of the revelation, IFRC says it’s put into place a new fraud prevention framework. This “triple defense” system will target the areas of operations, compliance, and internal investigation.

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