By Ryan Velez
Newsweek reports that as the Red Cross had teams out in Africa working hard to contain the recent ebola outbreaks, several staff members were helping themselves, scheming to steal money from the organization and making off with approximately $6 million in aid. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) confirmed this, saying that they are “outraged” by the evidence and have “zero tolerance for fraud.”
The theft occurred between 2014-2016 across three African countries, Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. Staff reportedly helped in preventing at least 10,500 cases. The fraud was made public knowledge on October 20th, but didn’t get formal attention until early November.
The IFRC also explained that they are “committed to full transparency and accountability to our partners and the communities we stand with. This fraud must not in any way diminish the tremendous courage and dedication of thousands of volunteers and staff during the Ebola response who worked tirelessly to save countless lives and support families.”
Internal investigations showed that $2.13 million was lost in Sierra Leone due to collusion between former IRFC staff and local bank employees. The Associated Press reports that the exchange rate was improperly fixed in that country. In Guinea, the fraud is believed to stem from a combination of fake and exaggerated customs bills, totaling a loss of $1.17 million. The IRFC is currently launching two more investigations, so there is the possibility that even more funds were lost.
“IFRC is committed to holding all those involved in any form of fraud to account, and to reclaiming all misappropriated, diverted, or otherwise illegally taken funds,” the statement reads. No formal apology was made in the written statement, but the Red Cross told the BBC that they were “deeply sorry for the losses.”
In addition, the IFRC also has plans to try and avoid this issue from happening again. “These new measures include cash spending limits in high-risk settings, early deployment of trained auditors as part of the first wave of emergency operations set up, mandatory fraud prevention training for staff being deployed, the creation of an Audit and Risk Commission of the IFRC Governing Board, and the establishment of a dedicated and independent internal investigation function,” the organization announced.