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Aid worker accused of pocketing Swiss money

Small businesses were supposed to get the cash (Swiss Contact)

A Pakistani aid worker is suspected of siphoning off around SFr800,000 in funds provided by Switzerland for small and medium-sized firms in Pakistan.

The worker, who is currently on the run, was entrusted with the cash as part of a project funded by the Swiss government's development agency.

The Federal Prosecutor's Office confirmed that a formal investigation had been launched into the alleged fraud.

It did not name the aid worker, who was in charge of the project and is suspected of pocketing as much as a fifth of the funds at his disposal between 1998 and 2002, when the project was stopped.

He was employed by the Swiss Foundation for Technical Cooperation - Swiss Contact - which is funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC).

Sophisticated

"He used sophisticated methods by [tampering with] bills," Urs Egger, director general of Swiss Contact, told swissinfo.

Egger added that the local firm auditing the project was also suspected of involvement in the alleged fraud.

"One of the crucial points was that the local auditing firm played the same game and if [auditors] don't do their job properly then the whole system is put into question."

When the fraud came to light at the end of last year the Swiss government froze SFr130,000 in Swiss bank accounts that were in the worker's name.

"Unless market conditions change we are not planning to re-enter Pakistan," Egger said.

In the light of the incident Swiss Contact has reassessed its system of monitoring its projects abroad.

More controls

"We have reinforced our system by using some additional controls. And we are in the process of changing our auditing system so that our Swiss-based auditing firm will be responsible for all our projects worldwide," Egger said.

The SDC is also overhauling its system as a result of the incident.

"We are in the process of changing our internal control system. We want to provide better training, have a better selection of auditing firms and change the terms of the contracts," Jean-Marc Clavel, Pakistan desk officer at SDC, told swissinfo.

"As far as I know this is the first time that such a major incident has happened. I think this is mainly due to the fact that the manager of this project was very well organised," he added.

swissinfo, Billi Bierling and Joanne Shields

In brief

An aid worker is suspected of pocketing as much as a fifth of the funds at his disposal between 1998 and 2002, when the project was stopped.

He was employed by the Swiss Foundation for Technical Cooperation, funded by the Swiss taxpayer.

A local firm auditing the project is also suspected of involvement in the alleged fraud.

In the light of the incident Swiss Contact has reassessed its system of monitoring its projects abroad.

end of infobox


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