Oxfam set for crisis talks amid Haiti sexual abuse scandal

London, Feb 12 (IANS) The British charity Oxfam will try to convince the UK government on Monday to continue its funding despite claims of sexual misconduct by its aid workers in Haiti.

The charity has been accused of concealing the findings of an inquiry that its senior staff hired prostitutes while delivering aid in Haiti after the devastating 2010 earthquake that killed hundreds of thousands of people.

Oxfam denies a cover-up and its officials were set to meet International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt later in the day, the BBC reported.

The aid workers — including the Oxfam country director at the time, Roland van Hauwermeiren — were accused of turning a villa rented by the organization into a makeshift brothel, with prostitutes wearing only Oxfam T-shirts.

Oxfam received about 32 million pounds ($44 million) from the government last financial year, according to public records.

International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt warned on Sunday that Oxfam could lose millions of pounds in public funding because of the scandal.

Mordaunt’s predecessor Priti Patel shared concerns about the cover-up and wrote in the Telegraph that the Oxfam scandal was just “the tip of the iceberg”.

In an interview with Sky News Patel said: “I did my own research and I have to say I had a lot of push-back within my own department … that is the scandal. People knew about this.”

A Downing Street spokesman said the British government had taken action to enforce a “zero-tolerance approach” to allegations of “horrific behaviour” by Oxfam staff. He gave no details on what the actions were.

Oxfam could also face legal action in Haiti. The country is considering pursuing criminal charges, the Haitian chief of mission to the UK, Bocchit Edmond, told CNN.

Edmond said that Oxfam representatives in Haiti would be summoned by the Foreign Ministry.

According to reports, Oxfam failed to warn NGOs about the allegations, allowing some of the accused to get jobs at other aid agencies.

The UK Charity Commission said that Oxfam informed the agency in August 2011 that the charity was conducting an internal investigation related to inappropriate sexual behaviour, bullying, harassment and the intimidation of staff.

But the aid organization failed to reveal the scope and key details of the case.

Oxfam did not deny the accusations against its staff members, but it denied a cover-up, saying that it launched a swift internal investigation after it became aware of the allegations.

Four people were fired and another three resigned, including van Hauwermeiren, the charity said.

Oxfam is one of the UK’s largest and most prominent aid groups, operating development programmes in over 90 countries around the world.

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