The Red Cross has officially confirmed that more than $5 million dollars of aid money was lost to fraud and corruption during the Ebola epidemic in West Africa. The revelations follow an internal investigation of how the organization handled more than $124 million during the 2014-2016 epidemic that killed more than 11,000 people in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea.
Red Cross auditors have revealed that $2.7 million dollars intended to go to Ebola victims in Liberia disappeared. Auditors found salaries were being paid to non-existent aid workers. Auditors also found receipts of overpriced supplies and fake customs bills.
In Sierra Leone, Red Cross staff colluded with local bank workers to skim over $2 million dollars. It is believed that the money was lost when they improperly fixed the exchange rate at the height of the epidemic. Investigations are still ongoing in Guinea, but so far auditors have found $1 million has disappeared via fake customs bills.
The Ebola outbreak erupted in Guinea and quickly spread to Sierra Leone and Liberia. The international aid response was initially slow, and money — once it arrived — was often disbursed quickly in the rush to purchase supplies and get aid workers into the field.
The Red Cross told the BBC’s Imogen Foulkes in Geneva that it is deeply sorry for the losses. The Red Cross has said it now plans to send trained auditors along with emergency operations teams. Other measures will include additional staff training and “the establishment of a dedicated and independent internal investigation function.”
“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,” said Dr. Jemilah Mahmood, the IFRC under secretary general for partnerships.
“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.”