Tigray aid embezzlement: authorities identify 186 suspects

Regional and federal government officials as well as Eritrean soldiers were involved in the theft of food aid in northern Ethiopia’s Tigray region, the head of an investigation by the Tigrayan authorities said on Thursday.
The U.N. World Food Programme and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) paused food distribution last month in war-scarred Tigray because they said significant amounts of aid had been stolen.
The two agencies then suspended food aid across all of Ethiopia last week for the same reason. An internal humanitarian memo said USAID believes food has been diverted to Ethiopian military units as part of a scheme orchestrated by federal and regional government entities.
More than 20 million people need food assistance in Africa’s second most populous nation, largely due to the Horn of Africa’s worst drought in decades and a two-year civil war in Tigray that ended in a truce last November.
General Fiseha Kidanu, the head of peace and security in Tigray’s interim regional administration, told Tigrai TV on Wednesday that the investigation he leads had confirmed the theft of more than 860 kg of wheat and 215,000 litres of food oil.
Investigators have identified 186 suspects involved in the scheme and detained seven, he said, without naming any.
Last week Ethiopia’s government said in a joint statement with USAID that it was committed to addressing the “deeply concerning revelations of food aid diversion”.
Due to conflict and drought, around 20 million people in Ethiopia depend on food aid, 16 percent of the total population, the UN’s humanitarian agency OCHA said in May.
Ethiopia hosts nearly one million refugees, mostly from South Sudan, Somalia and Eritrea.
Nearly 30,000 fleeing the recent conflict in Sudan have since mid-April found refuge in the country.
Rebel fighters in Tigray began demobilising last month, marking a new stage in the implementation of a peace deal signed by the federal government and regional authorities.
The two-year war in Africa’s second most populous country killed untold numbers of civilians and forced about two million from their homes before it ended with a surprise truce in November last year.
On Thursday, the Ethiopian foreign ministry reiterated that an investigation would be carried out at national level into the aid scandal.
Ethiopia’s army has denied its forces benefited from any stolen food aid.
Eritrean forces fought alongside Ethiopia’s army in the Tigray conflict, which killed tens of thousands of people and left hundreds of thousands facing famine-like conditions. (Compiled from agencies)

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