Audit unearths massive fraud at Amnesty International Zim Mr Cousin Zilala

Tichaona Zindoga / Farirai Machivenyika, Harare Bureau
An audit has unearthed serious fraud and financial mismanagement involving millions of dollars at Amnesty International Zimbabwe.

Amnesty, an internantional human rights organisation that has been part of a phalanx of anti-establishment non-governmental organisations, joins a lengthening list of Western NGOs that have lost money to local activists that purport to fight for civil and political rights in the country.

The purported fight itself is a key pillar in pushing the regime change agenda that seeks to supplant the revolutionary Zanu-PF party with the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change formerly led by the late Morgan Tsvangirai and now led by Nelson Chamisa.

The NGOs and civil society enjoy a relationship with the MDC Alliance that has seen the former also backchanelling funds from Western capitals to the party.

And in the shady dealings involving the opposition and the NGOs lots of money has been lost to corruption as officials have abused monies for projects, funding jet-set lifestyles for themselves.

Previously, USAid, the US Embassy in Harare and other Western embassies have lost significant amounts of money but the matters have been hushed owing to the illicit nature of the operations.

A source close to the developments yesterday revealed that early last year the principal office for Amnesty instituted an assement that led to an audit, which later unearthed the irregularities.

“When the donors realised that their money was being mismanaged they instituted an assement that sought to look into the financial status, incorporating a skills audit,” said the source.

“The investigators were seconded from the London (United Kingdom) office and they recommended a forensic audit,” added the source.

The forensic report implicated country director, Cousin Zilala and chairperson Takesure Musiyiwa.
Zilala later resigned and Musiyiwa was suspended in December last year pending a disciplinary process.

Musiyiwa is reported to have been implicated in another scandal involving Zimrights and USAid as then vice chairperson.

Amnesty has also suspended finance officer, Sibongile Zimbeva, on allegations of mismanagement.

The organisation’s headquarters is reportedly keen to press criminal charges and with a police report having been made.

In a statement on Saturday, the organisation confirmed the abuse of funds by individuals that were not named.

“Following an extensive and comprehensive forensic audit carried out by a reputable international audit firm, the Amnesty International Zimbabwe Board (AIZ Board) has uncovered evidence of serious fraud and financial mismanagement by individuals in Amnesty International Zimbabwe.

“In response to these findings, the AIZ Board has notified the appropriate national law enforcement agencies and commenced the legal process of civil recovery in order to recoup lost funds,” reads a statement from the Board.

A spokesperson of the AIZ who was quoted in the statement said they were pursuing various avenues to recover the money.

“The gravity of these audit findings cannot be overestimated, and we are naturally pursuing every avenue to recover the proceeds of misconduct,” said an Amnesty International Zimbabwe spokesperson.

“We will work hand in glove with the authorities and provide full assistance to any subsequent investigation and prosecution to ensure that any individual found to have been involved in misconduct is held to account through criminal and civil proceedings.”

The external audit was commissioned after the fraud allegations came to light and the board said they were implementing financial risk management measures to ensure anti-fraud and corruption procedures were in place and adhered to.

“The steps that we have implemented will help ensure that this situation does not happen again,” the spokesperson added.
Contacted for comment Amnesty International Southern Africa Media Manager Mr Robert Shivambu, refused to say anything outside the issued statement.

“I cannot comment further beyond the statement on this issue,” he said.

Police spokesperson Senior Assistant Commissioner Charity Charamba could not be reached for comment yesterday.

AIZ is one of the quasi-political civil society organisations that work as appendages of opposition political parties that have been implicated in the abuse of donor funds.

The US, through its US Agency for International Development (USAid) last year suspended funding of some of these NGOs that include Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights), Election Resource Centre (ERC) and Counselling Services Unit (CSU) for failure to observe set financial guidelines and other improprieties.

Between 2011 and 2013, the USAid poured more than $850 million in the NGO sector, but dumped the civil society organisations after opposition parties lost resoundingly to Zanu-PF in 2013.

Most of the senior managers at the organisations have been accused of abusing donor funds to live luxurious lifestyles including building houses in up market residential areas and driving expensive cars.

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