Oxfam Could Lose Millions in Funding As Haiti Demands Identity of Staff Who Paid Sex Workers

British charity Oxfam is facing the prospect of the U.K. government withdrawing £34m ($46m) in annual state funding amid a sex abuse scandal.

The aid organization has been accused of covering up the findings of an internal inquiry into sexual misconduct by some of its senior staff in Haiti, where the charity engaged in a disaster relief operation in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake. The disaster killed at least 220,000 people and injured more than 300,000.

The alleged sexual misconduct took place in 2011. At the time, Oxfam released a report on its own investigation, but did not disclose details.

The extent of the abuses only surfaced on Friday (February 9), following an investigation by the Times.

Oxfam workers have been accused of turning a residence rented by the NGO into a "whorehouse" where they threw parties with girls "running around half-naked", a whistleblower was quoted as saying by the Times.

It also emerged that at the time, the country director, Roland van Hauwermeire, admitted to having prostitutes visit his residence rented by Oxfam. But instead of being dismissed, he was offered the opportunity to resign if he collaborated with the internal investigation.

Two aid workers were allowed to resign while being investigated for allegedly using prostitutes, bullying and CV fraud. Four others were dismissed for gross misconduct.

Oxfam officials including the charity's chief executive, Mark Goldring, are meeting International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt and the Charity Commission, which regulates registered charities in England and Wales.

Conservative MP Andrew Mitchell, who was the development secretary when Oxfam first investigated the allegations, said the department had not been given all the information.

He told Sky News: "The answer is nothing on the scandal that is before us at the moment. Oxfam did report the matter to the department for international development but they didn't specify the nature of what had gone wrong. As a result of that, because the nature wasn't identified, it wasn't escalated to me as secretary of state.

"Had Oxfam been totally open with officials, then officials undoubtedly would have told me as secretary of state and, of course, I would have taken the requisite action."

Oxfam
Oxfam's chief executive Mark Goldring (L) and Oxfam's chair of trustees Caroline Thomson leave the Department for International Development (DFID) in central London on February 12, 2018. Oxfam announced a new raft of measures to tackle sexual abuse cases after being ordered to meet the British government on February 12 to explain its handling of a 2011 prostitution scandal involving its aid workers in Haiti. DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images

The Charity Commission made similar claims. The commission's director, Michelle Russell, told the BBC the body had not been informed adequately.

"We were categorically told there was no abuse of beneficiaries involved in the allegations. Nor were we told that there were issues or possible issues around possible crimes, including those involving minors," she said.

"What we did know - and it was made public at the time - is that it resulted in the sacking of several members of staff and resignations. We were assured that Oxfam had investigated it fully."

Meanwhile, Haiti's ambassador to the U.K. said the country is urging the charity and the U.K. government to name the aid workers accused of paying possible underage prostitutes.

"For the executive to know these crimes were committed and to allow those people to leave without informing the authorities is wrong," Bocchit Edmond said, according to the Guardian.

"We might be dealing with a paedophile ring. It was a crime. Prostitution is illegal and we believe they may have been underage kids."

Oxfam's response

Oxfam
The logo on the front of an Oxfam bookshop is photographed in Glasgow on February 10, 2018. The British Government announced late on February 9 it was reviewing all work with Oxfam amid revelations the charity's staff hired prostitutes in Haiti during a 2011 relief effort on the earthquake-hit island. ANDY BUCHANAN/AFP/Getty Images

Oxfam has denied claims it has covered up the results of the investigation. The organization also said claims that under-age girls had been exploited were investigated but "not proven".

Oxfam announced on Monday (February 12) the resignation of its Deputy Chief Executive, Penny Lawrence.

"Over the last few days we have become aware that concerns were raised about the behavior of staff in Chad as well as Haiti that we failed to adequately act upon,"
Lawrence said.

"It is now clear that these allegations - involving the use of prostitutes and which related to behaviour of both the Country Director and members of his team in Chad - were raised before he moved to Haiti.

"As programme director at the time, I am ashamed that this happened on my watch and I take full responsibility. I am desperately sorry for the harm and distress that this has caused to Oxfam's supporters, the wider development sector and most of all the vulnerable people who trusted us."

Chief executive Mark Goldring said: "I deeply respect Penny's decision to accept personal responsibility. Like us, she is appalled at what happened and is determined to do what is best for Oxfam and the people we exist to help.

"I would like to place on record my sincere thanks for the years of dedicated service that Penny has given to Oxfam and the fight against poverty around the world."

Ahead of the meeting with Dfid, Oxfam issued a statement in which he committed to strengthening efforts to prevent and handle sexual abuse cases.