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Friday, 31 July 2009

Liberia aid workers 'stole $1m'

Food aid being delivered
Some food aid did get through to the people who needed it

A US-based international Christian relief organisation says it believes more than 90% of its aid to Liberia went missing in a massive fraud scam.

World Vision's Vice-President George Ward told the BBC the losses came to more than $1m and pledged to make "every effort" to avoid a repeat.

A former senior World Vision official in Liberia and two other workers have been charged over the alleged fraud.

They are accused of selling the food in local markets and keeping the profits.

They are also alleged to have used construction materials to build themselves multiple homes using labour provided by US-funded aid workers.

Joe Bondo, a Liberian who was a manager on the project, has been in a Washington jail since his arrest on 20 May.

The Associated Press reports that Mr Bondo, along with two other officials, have been charged with 12 criminal counts, which include fraud, theft, lying to investigators and witness tampering.


The scam allegedly began in 2005, as Liberia emerged from 14 years of civil war that claimed some 300,000 lives, displaced more than three million people and left the country's infrastructure and economy in tatters.

World Vision is said to have received an anonymous tip-off about the fraud in early 2007, and sent auditors to 258 Liberian towns believed to be benefitting from the programme.

Mr Ward told the BBC's Network Africa programme that they could only establish that 9% of the food aid had reached the intended recipients. The AP reports that 34 of the towns did not even exist.

Documentation showing receipt of food aid had been "falsified in the offices of World Vision in Liberia in a very large way," Mr Ward explained.

He said the organisation had now tightened its procedures - including launching a hotline for people to report any wrongdoing - to make such frauds more easily detectable in future.

"We cannot guarantee of course that fraud will never happen again," he told the BBC.

"But we can guarantee that we make every effort to ensure that every dollar, every pound sterling, every euro contributed to World Vision is used in the best possible way and we have an excellent track record in that regard."



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