Tens of millions of pounds in UK foreign aid was handed to an international charity facing allegations of fraud and sexual misconduct in one of its regional offices, it has been reported.
According to The Times, the Department for International Development (Dfid) gave £132m to the London-based International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) for a two-year programme in September, despite being made aware of the allegations the previous month.
“Internal documents refer to claims of sexual harassment, bullying, abusive conduct and intimidation of whistle-blowers at one of the charity’s largest overseas offices,” reports the newspaper. “A female executive was allegedly sent a pornographic video in an attempt to intimidate her.”
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The UK’s Charity Commission watchdog has opened an inquiry into IPPF, a sexual health charity, noting that there were “a number of serious incident reports relating to matters of concern in a regional office, including concerns about fraud and sexual harassment”.
The problems centre on one particular official and the response by the international leadership in London, says newspaper.
The official is understood to strongly deny any wrongdoing and stood down in August while an independent law firm investigated the claims. He was cleared of the sexual misconduct allegations in October, prompting a letter of protest from four former senior staff members to the London office, and was then dismissed in November over what the IPPF said was “a lack of management controls and oversight” in relation to a 2017 fraud case.
He has successfully appealed the dismissal but is still suspended until a fresh disciplinary hearing on the fraud issues reaches a conclusion.
An IPPF spokesperson said that the charity “has been in regular contact with its donors and regulator throughout this process”.
“Over the past year IPPF’s safeguarding task force has undertaken considerable work to strengthen safeguarding policies, procedures and systems,” the representative added.
In an editorial, The Times notes that International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt promised to withhold cash from charities that fail to stamp out exploitation following the Oxfam sex scandal in Haiti.
“There is a need for governments, and in particular Britain because of its generous 0.7% of GDP commitment to aid spending, to be more systematic in their control,” concludes the paper.
A spokeswoman for Dfid said it was aware of the issues at IPPF, adding that the department has a “zero-tolerance approach to fraud and corruption of any kind, and we have been very clear that we will not tolerate practices which do not reach the highest standards”.
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