The director of a Swiss charity has denied allegations that he misused millions of francs intended for demining operations in Africa.
Of the SFr6.2 million ($4.6 million) donated to People against Landmines (PaL), only SFr80,000 was spent on mine-clearing projects.
The money, collected between 2000 and 2002, was supposed to be used for demining operations in Angola and Mozambique.
The charity, whose head office is in Düsseldorf, Germany, has launched an investigation into the activities of its Basel-based Swiss subsidiary.
The Basel City prosecutor’s office announced on Monday that it too would be investigating the allegations.
“Donors have been made to believe that their money has been used for projects,” Hendrik Ehlers, chairman of PaL, told swissinfo.
“In reality, just 1.3 per cent of the funds have gone towards work in the field.”
Josef Lauber, director of PaL Switzerland, has denied any wrongdoing, saying a substantial part of the money had been used to establish the Swiss branch of the demining charity.
“It is unbelievable that we have worked all this time to build up this organisation and now they are throwing us out,” he said.
Lauber said he would have been able to transfer SFr1 million to the charity’s head office in Germany by 2004.
He added that SFr2.4 million had been paid out to two companies subcontracted to collect funds.
“There was always a representative of PaL on our committee, who oversaw and approved our spending,” he told swissinfo.
Other Swiss charities have expressed surprise at the high overhead costs incurred by PaL Switzerland.
Ian Clark, director of the Swiss Foundation for Mine Action, told swissinfo that these were way above what donors should expect.
“For us, it’s clearly a disproportionate cost,” he said. “If somebody is going to donate funds as a private person, they would expect that money to be used for the purpose for which it was donated.”
Clark added that his organisation spent ten per cent of donations on administrative costs, with the rest going towards fieldwork.
swissinfo, Scott Capper and Billi Bierling