UNESCO has rescinded its international education prize and cut all ties with an organization that coordinates U.S. aid programs in Africa after consultation with UNICEF and the British government, which both severed relationships following allegations of fraud.
Development Aid from People to People, or DAPP, Malawi had been scheduled to receive part of a $300,000 UNESCO education prize to be split with two other organizations at an October ceremony in Paris. DAPP has managed U.S. foreign aid projects in Malawi as a contractor for Planet Aid, a Massachusetts nonprofit, which has been allocated $133 million by the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service since 2004.
Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting previously reported that DAPP and Planet Aid are linked to a reputed cult leader wanted by Interpol, and that farmers on projects in Malawi touted by DAPP were still impoverished.
“Our decision to suspend immediately the participation of DAPP Malawi in all relations with UNESCO was based on an evaluation of information that was openly available and in consultation with UNICEF” and the UK’s Department for International Development, said UNESCO’s George Papagiannis.
After traveling to southern Africa in 2015 to visit the sites of DAPP agricultural projects paid for with USDA grant funds routed through Planet Aid, Reveal, beginning in March 2016, disclosed allegations of financial abuse and projects that did not deliver on their promises.
In August, the BBC in collaboration with Reveal, reported that DAPP was secretly run by the Teachers Group, which had been cut off from British government funds following scandals and an official investigation during the 1990s.
The founder of the Teachers Group, Mogens Amdi Petersen, is behind a network of charities in the United States and Africa that include Planet Aid, DAPP, the Humana Federation, and the Federation of Associations connected to the International Humana People to People Movement, or FAIHPP, Danish prosecutors and the FBI say. Petersen years ago fled fraud charges connected with Danish allegations that he sapped money from charities and routed it back to benefit himself and his organization.
In an email, DAPP Malawi country director Lisbeth Thomsen rejected the allegations.
“DAPP Malawi strongly denies any accusations of financial impropriety or misuse of donor funds. DAPP Malawi has taken extensive action to conclusively demonstrate that there has not at any time been any misuse of donor funds, and no such allegations have been shown to have any merit or basis in fact,” she wrote. “DAPP Malawi continues to work tirelessly to support the many thousands of people in Malawi that rely upon its vital humanitarian work.”
Britain, which had provided $7 million to DAPP, suspended funding and has launched its own inquiry. UNICEF, which had allocated $920,000, did the same.
Abigail Kent, a spokeswoman for the UK’s Department for International Development, or DFID, would not discuss details of the ongoing investigation, but confirmed her agency had broken its ties with DAPP.
“DFID has a zero tolerance approach to fraud and corruption – full stop,” she wrote in an email. “Payments to DAPP and all members of the Federation of Associations Connected to the International Humana People to People Movement have been stopped and programmes terminated – no UK taxpayers’ funds are at risk.”
A spokeswoman said UNICEF cut ties in six countries linked to Teachers Group, also known as Tvind, including Malawi following stories by Reveal and the BBC, as well as complaints from local staff.
UNICEF previously had announced it was launching an inquiry after DAPP workers last fall said UNICEF-funded wages had been withheld as dues to Tvind. UNICEF’s Najwa Mekki would not elaborate on the investigation. But she wrote in an email that “Since 30 November 2016, UNICEF has had no relationship with any entities within the Humana network.”
As for UNESCO, Papagiannis said the UN’s education, science and culture agency had not funded programs with DAPP Malawi or Humana, other than the UNESCO-Hamdan bin Rashid Al-Maktoum Prize. A UNESCO news release said that prize was to have been awarded in October to DAPP and two other organizations.
Recently the release appeared on the web with the following alert: “NOTE – In light of recent reports, the UNESCO Director-General has decided to suspend immediately the participation of DAPP Malawi in all relations with UNESCO.”