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Sierra Leone cleared of Ebola fund pilfering accusations

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Sierra Leone’s anti-graft agency has cleared the country of any involvement in the alleged pilfering of funds sent by the International Federation of Red Cross (IFRC).

These funds were sent in response to the 2014-2016 Ebola epidemic the country was facing.

The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) said on Wednesday, 27 March 2019, that its investigations revealed that the claim of stolen Ebola funds in the country was “speculative” and “unsubstantiated” as the IFRC could not provide evidence of fraud.

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The commission also pointed fingers at IFRC’s foreign delegates as possible suspects if there is any need for further investigations.

The Ebola epidemic, which erupted in West Africa in early 2014, affected mainly Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia, claiming in between them over 11, 000 lives among nearly 30, 000 cases.

IFRC, as part of its response to the epidemic, wired $25,155,552, according to the investigations of the ACC.

The IFRC and its local branch, the Sierra Leone Red Cross Society, later reported that about $2 million was misappropriated.

The allegation was based on an audit report by the London-based global auditing firm, Price Waterhouse Coopers (PWC) on behalf of IFRC.

The First Bank of Nigeria (SL) Limited (FBN), through which the money was transferred, was the major suspect in the eyes of the IFRC and its auditors who believed that the money got misappropriated through fraudulent forex negotiations.

The ACC said contrary to the PWC Report, which claimed that some transactions were initiated by FBN without any proper authority to do so, its findings established that all transactions relating to the funds in respect of the Ebola scourge were in fact each initiated by IFRC Foreign Finance Delegates sent to Sierra Leone by the international humanitarian agency.

ACC also dismissed claims of foreign exchange manipulation made by IFRC.

It said without seeking any clarification from the Bank of Sierra Leone (BSL), the PWC auditors proceeded to erroneously use the BSL and Standard Chartered Bank daily average rates culled from online sources as benchmarks to quantify the extent of their loss.

The commission said it in fact established that six foreign exchange transactions were inaccurately reported by FBN to the BSL which failed to act accordingly, due to ‘lax banking supervision’.

The BSL is being investigated for this, according to the statement, signed by ACC’s
Public Education and Outreach Director.

“In conclusion, the claim of stolen Ebola funds in Sierra Leone is speculative and unsubstantiated since IFRC could not provide evidence of fraud. The perceived fraudulent forex negotiations should fall wholly on the IFRC’s Foreign Finance Delegates who authorized all the transactions. The commission believes that the financial delegates of the IFRC are very crucial to the investigation based on their dealings with FBN. However, all, but one, had been laid off by the IFRC and none is within Sierra Leone to assist us with the investigation,” it added.

– APA

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