These fraud allegations come hot on the heels of a review of Amnesty’s workplace culture which warned of widespread bullying and nepotism. (Diego Azubel, EPA)

Amnesty International Zimbabwe closes amid allegations of fraud

Nyasha Chingono
Police are investigating suspected misconduct involving millions of dollars of funds from donors.

Amnesty International has shut down its Zimbabwe branch over alleged abuse of donor funds and fraud by staff.

The human rights group says it has launched further investigations with the help of police into suspected graft and misconduct involving millions of dollars and Amnesty Zimbabwe has indefinitely been placed under administration, The Guardian reports.

The alleged fraud was exposed in a forensic audit conducted last year. The country director has resigned while the chair and finance officer are currently suspended.

Regional spokesperson Robert Shivambu declined to comment on the allegations to The Guardian citing pending investigations.

In a statement, Amnesty said: “An extensive forensic audit was conducted in late 2018 which uncovered evidence of fraud and serious financial mismanagement by individuals in AIZ. National law enforcement agencies were notified of the findings earlier this year and the organisation also commenced the legal process of civil recovery in order to recoup lost funds.

“Amnesty International’s International board can give an assurance that, since the allegations first came to light, urgent financial risk management measures have been put in place to ensure anti-fraud and corruption procedures have been adhered to and that donor funds are safe.”

“The decision has been made to take extraordinary measures to protect the reputation, integrity and operation of the movement. It is with regret that it is now clear that AIZ has not been able to take the necessary steps in its duty of good governance,” the statement said.

Amnesty Zimbabwe is one among many civil society organisations in Zimbabwe to be implicated in the abuse of donor funds.

Last year USAid suspended funding for NGOs that included Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights), Election Resource Centre (ERC) and Counselling Services Unit (CSU) for alleged gross financial mismanagement.

It comes months after a damning report into the wider Amnesty International organisation warned of a “toxic” working environment and widespread bullying.The review was ordered by its head, Kumi Naidoo, after the suicides of two staff members last year, Gaëtan Mootoo, who worked in the Paris office, and Rosalind McGregor, a paid intern at the Geneva office.

It pointed to a workplace culture of bullying, nepotism and an “us v them” dynamic which threatened the organisation’s credibility as a human rights champion.

Staff in the group are currently braced for redundancies after the management admitted to a hole in its budget of up to £17-million (about R314-million) to the end of 2020.

Up to 70 jobs will go in voluntary and compulsory layoffs amid a slump in donations from the national branches compared to forecasts last year, and a multimillion-pound increase in spending on fundraising.

This is an edited version of a feature originally published as part of The Guardian’s Global Development project.

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