Oxfam rocked by corruption, sex abuse allegations

New York, Feb 14 (IANS) Oxfam, the British government-funded charity that has campaigned against corruption and sex abuse in India, has itself been rocked by allegations of corruption and sex abuse, according to media reports.

Its chairman, Juan Alberto Fuentes, was arrested in Guatemala on Tuesday as part of an investigation into graft and its deputy chief executive, Penny Lawrence, quit on Monday saying she was “ashamed” of how the organisation had handled sex scandals.

The charity’s former official who was in charge of safeguarding employees, volunteers and recipients, Helen Evans, accused senior leaders of ignoring evidence that teenage volunteers in its British shops had been abused and staff abroad traded sex for aid, The Telegraph reported.

According to the newspaper, she said that ten per cent of staff in some countries had been sexually assaulted by colleagues or witnessed abuse.

The Telegraph also reported that Christian Aid recorded two incidents of sex harassment, Save the Children 31 and Oxfam 87 according to figures compiled by charities about cases in Britain and abroad.

Former British government Aid Secretary, Priti Patel, said that the revelations were “just tip of the iceberg” and the government knew of 300 cases in the aid sector, the newspaper quoted her.

Oxfam had covered up the incidents of “use of prostitutes, downloading pornography, bullying and intimidation in Haiti” by seven of its workers who were dismissed or allowed to resign in 2011, according to The Times of London which broke the story.

Of them, the Oxfam country officer for Haiti, Roland van Hauwermeiren, had earlier left a position with a charity, Merlin, in Liberia after an investigation into sex parties. The Guardian said that Merlin is a medical charity that has merged with Save the Children organisation.

He later went to work for a French organisation, Action Against Hunger, as country director in Bangladesh, the newspaper said.

There are also allegations of employees using prostitutes in Chad, according to the Telegraph.

Fuentes, who had been Guatemala’s finance minister, was arrested along with a former president and eight others in a case involving corruption allegations around a mass transport system, the Guardian reported quoting the Guatemalan newspaper Prensa Libre.

As a fallout of the sex abuse allegations, actress Minnie Driver quit as Oxfam’s ambassador. She tweeted: “All I can tell you about this awful revelation about Oxfam is that I am devastated. Devastated for the women who were used by people sent there to help them, devastated by the response of an organization that I have been raising awareness for since I was nine years old.”

CNN reported that Oxfam spent $414 million last year for its charities and its donors include companies like Google, Unilever and Visa.

The British government gave it $44 million, according to the BBC.

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