Wednesday 21 August 2019

Aid charity Goal loses €4.3m over US fraud probe

Crisis-hit agency's accounts reveal impact of Syria investigation

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Stock photo
Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

An American investigation into the aid agency Goal over alleged fraud in its operations in Syria has cost the charity €4.3m.

The overseas aid agency says it spent the money on "professional services associated with the investigation", including forensic accounting and legal advice, according to the charity's latest accounts.

In addition, Goal received legal and professional accountancy advice to the value of €2m but the services were "pro bono" and offered as a "donation in kind", the accounts state.

The multi-million euro fall-out of the probe is disclosed in Goal's annual accounts for 2016 which were published last Friday.

The charity was plunged into crisis in April last year when it emerged that its Syrian operations were under investigation by US authorities.

The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) launched an inquiry into allegations of bid-rigging by suppliers to Goal and other humanitarian organisations working in Turkey and Syria. Two Turkish-born Goal staff were fired. There were also concerns about conflict of interest.

The disclosures rocked the charity. The Irish Government suspended its €7m funding but later restored it and the US considered cutting its aid funding but this was averted by the charity's swift response to the crisis.

The accounts devote considerable space to the OIG investigation, detailing the governance and management changes introduced in the past year.

Goal instigated a radical reform progamme in the wake of the scandal.

Senior management roles were overhauled and the former Goal chief executive, Barry Andrews, stepped down to allow the charity "a fresh start" in terms of leadership.

The charity also recruited a former senior police officer to head up an internal investigations and counter fraud unit.

As a result of the OIG investigation, Goal closed country offices in Ukraine, Nepal, India and Liberia and did not open an office in Yemen.

Other countries' programmes were operated at a reduced level.

Goal also considered merging with Oxfam but talks fell through.

The accounts note that the investigation put a further strain on the charity's cashflow. After the investigation was disclosed, some donors stopped providing upfront funding, and instead provided funding in arrears.

While Goal's income dropped last year by more than a fifth from €210m to €163m, the income decline was attributed in the main to the World Health Organisation's decision to end the alert over the Ebola outbreak in Africa, which caused the funding for Goal's work there to end.

The charity's total funds at the end of 2016 were €27m, of which €10m were unrestricted funds that it was free to use in the event of an emergency response.

The accounts note that Goal will look back on 2016 as the most challenging in its 40-year history. The OIG investigation is ongoing.

Sunday Independent

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