Tigray aid embezzlement: authorities identify 186 suspects

An Ethiopian boy refugee who fled the Tigray conflict walks carrying a container of oil contributed by USAID, Gedaref, eastern Sudan, on December 2, 2020.   -  
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Investigations ordered by the interim regional authorities in Tigray into the diversion of food aid in this region of Ethiopia have identified 186 suspects, members of government and humanitarian bodies, according to the head of the commission of inquiry.

On 3 May, USAID, the US government's humanitarian agency, and the UN World Food Program (WFP) announced the indefinite suspension of their food aid to Tigray because of the misappropriations.

Both then extended this decision to the whole of Ethiopia on 8 June, with USAID referring to a "widespread and coordinated" diversion of food aid across the country.

"Five entities, the Eritrean government, the Ethiopian federal government, the Tigray regional authorities, the coordinators of the displaced persons camps and humanitarian workers, took part" in these diversions, reports Tigrai TV, the official media of the Tigray regional authorities, citing an interview on Wednesday with General Fiseha Kidanu, head of the Commission of Inquiry.

"Seven of the 186 suspects have already been incarcerated", said General Fiseha, without specifying which entities the identified suspects belong to.

Between November 2020 and November 2022, Tigray was the scene of a brutal conflict between the Ethiopian federal government and the regional authorities that had joined the rebellion, during which the region was cut off from the world for several months and deprived of humanitarian aid.

The Ethiopian army, as well as forces from neighboring Ethiopian regions, intervened militarily in Tigray to support the Ethiopian federal army. All those involved in the conflict have been accused of multiple acts of violence.

On 3 May, Getachew Reda, president of the interim regional administration set up at the end of the conflict, announced that, "in view of the seriousness of the problem and the accumulation of evidence", he had launched an "investigation to ensure that all those responsible are held to account". 

On Thursday, the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs reiterated that an "appropriate investigation will be carried out" at national level, in accordance with the "agreement reached between the American and Ethiopian governments" following the USAID announcement.

"Nevertheless, this will not prevent certain entities from wanting to use" the misappropriation of aid "as a tool for diplomatic pressure", explained Meles Alem, spokesman for the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, at a press briefing on Thursday.

At the end of May, the UN humanitarian agency (Ocha) estimated that some 20 million people, or 16% of the 120 million Ethiopians, were dependent on food aid because of conflict and a historic drought in the Horn of Africa.

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