November 10, 2017 By Ishmael Sallieu Koroma & Alusine Sesay
While stressing that monies allegedly syphoned by two staff of the International Federation of Red Crescent Societies (IFRCRS) be returned to the institution by the colluding bank in Sierra Leone, Head of IFRCRS in the country has emphasised that the two staff, who have been relieved of their duty, could face criminal proceedings.
Paul Jenkins was responding to an exclusive interview from Concord Times at the organisation’s head office on Liverpool Street in Freetown following revelation last week that two million United States Dollars was allegedly pilfered by two international staff in collusion with a local bank.
It could be recalled that fraud of a huge magnitude was reported to have taken place in the three Ebola affected countries of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone in which about six million United States Dollars was said to have been at risk.
According to Paul Jenkins, in in 2014, the IFRCRS launched an appeal to support the fight against the Ebola Virus Disease in Sierra Leone and that between 2014/2015 they became aware of the discrepancies in the handling of Ebola funds within the organisation.
He noted that the fraud and corruption came to light through a whistleblower within the institution, stating that a scheduled audit did not show any fraud, coupled with an internal investigation which they were not satisfied with.
“We hired an international auditing firm – Cooper House – which revealed overpriced supplies, salaries for non-existent aid workers and fake customs bills. What the investigations showed was that money was being transferred from Geneva to our account in a bank in Sierra Leone. What had happened was that two individuals from IFRCRS were colluding with bank officials to fix the exchange rate at a rate below the actual rate. In order words, money was coming in at a normal rate and was being transferred into our account at a lower rate,” he narrated.
Mr. Jenkins further revealed that as soon as the fraud was detected they took immediate action and ordered a complete change of staff, admitting that they had kept the issue secrete because they were in effective negotiation with the bank, which they believed has serious responsibility to resolve the issue, but to no avail.
He added that since the said bank has not been cooperative, they asked the Anti-Corruption (ACC) to investigate them for possible collusion with the two staff, stating that no local staff has been found wanting .
In an exasperated mood, he said: “I have worked in the IFRC for over thirty years and find it deeply saddened by this act of callousness. We are putting a lot of measures in place to curb future happenings of such nature.”
He disclosed that part of the measures they have taken is to limit the amount of money to be transferred into each risk situation and that they now have an agreed list of banks they would be working with in Sierra Leone.
He also stated that they would be hiring auditors on the ground to oversee the management of funds in any emergency situation.
He further disclosed that the IFRC would ensure that all their staff participate in fraud detection and prevention training as they maintain a zero tolerance for corruption.
He said they have learnt a lesson over the fraud and corruption case, adding that this is not the first incident of fraud and corruption they have experienced but the magnitude of this was serious.
The IFRCS and Sierra Leone Red Cross Society played a key role in the 2014 Ebola Outbreak that killed thousands of people in the country.