Staff at UK High Commission in Sierra Leone suspended over lost £2mn

A number of employees members on the British Excessive Fee in Sierra Leone have been suspended on suspicion of defrauding the UK authorities of about £2mn.

Sir Philip Barton, everlasting secretary on the Overseas Workplace, notified the Commons international affairs committee this week of the loss to the division, which he stated can be recorded in its annual accounts.

The fraud associated primarily to the procurement of diesel gas for electrical energy turbines on the UK Excessive Fee in Freetown, he stated, including that the entire sum misplaced and the total background of the scheme was nonetheless being investigated.

“We consider a variety of country-based employees colluded to avoid controls. The employees believed to have been concerned have been suspended and disciplinary motion is ongoing,” Barton instructed the committee in a letter.

In his letter, Barton stated he had launched a evaluate into what went incorrect and {that a} programme to enhance safeguards on the outpost had been initiated.

The disclosure has sparked considerations amongst MPs about wider points concerning fraud, theft and corruption regarding UK authorities and UK-related charitable funds abroad.

Labour MP Neil Coyle, who sits on the committee, accused the Overseas Workplace’s management of getting “taken their eye off the ball” of the administration of embassies and commissions for the reason that division’s 2020 merger with the division for worldwide assist.

“The Overseas, Commonwealth and Improvement Workplace have to reassure us there isn’t any different fraud or corruption within the Sierra Leone workplace, but in addition that it has the technique of stopping fraud and the lack of British taxpayers’ cash throughout the remainder of its operations worldwide,” he added.

Conservative MP Alicia Kearns, chair of the committee, highlighted that Barton’s letter got here within the wake of stories {that a} charity headed by Rory Stewart, former UK worldwide improvement secretary, had been defrauded of just about $1mn within the Democratic Republic of Congo.

GiveDirectly stated in a press release on its web site final week that some members of its crew within the DRC had conspired with others to defraud its money switch programme of $900,000 over six months, “diverting assist from over 1,700 households in excessive poverty”.

The charity apologised to assist recipients and donors, and stated it had made adjustments that will forestall such fraud from going down in future.

In its 2021-22 annual accounts, the Overseas Workplace famous that its assist spending commitments meant it operated in “a few of the most difficult contexts”, however nonetheless took a “zero tolerance” method to fraud.

It recorded gross fraud losses of £2.1mn that 12 months, however after recovering a few of the losses the web complete misplaced to fraud was £218,230. In November 2021, the division launched a brand new counter-fraud technique.

In 2020, it emerged that 9 vintage clocks value £53,000 had been “unlawfully eliminated” from the Overseas Workplace’s headquarters in Whitehall.

The division’s transparency knowledge on fraud and theft printed that 12 months additionally recorded 1000’s of kilos misplaced from a misplaced satellite tv for pc telephone and money stolen in Africa, in addition to a former worker enterprise an Amazon procuring spree on a company bank card and a journey agent inflating ticket costs within the Asia-Pacific area.

The Overseas Workplace was contacted for remark.

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