Sri Lanka Express

US Probes Corruption in David Miliband’s Refugee Aid Group

David Miliband in front of a pile of discarded life vests in Lesbos. Photograph: Myrto Koutoulia/International Rescue Committee

An international aid group led by former British Foreign Secretary David Miliband is among several charities whose funding has been suspended by the United States while investigations are being conducted into allegations of systemic corruption.

By Hassina Leelarathna
International Rescue Committee (IRC) headed by David Miliband, the British politician best known in Sri Lanka for his attempts to save the Tamil Tigers from defeat in the last stages of the war in 2009, is among more than a dozen charities being investigated for kickbacks and rigged bidding in the handling of Syrian refugee projects paid for by US aid dollars.

Miliband who launched a failed bid to become leader of the Labor Party in 2010 now lives in New York with his family and is reportedly paid a staggering $600,000 a year by the charity for overseeing humanitarian programs in 40 countries.   

The IRC, which has an annual budget of £350 million, relies heavily on government funding from Britain and the United States.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Office of Inspector General said in a press release May 6 that 14 entities and individuals working out of Turkey were suspended by USAID following a months-long investigation. In addition, the funding of some aid groups has been suspended as part of a "complex investigation into cross-border aid programs" which were intended to help Syrian civilians and refugees.

“The investigation to date has identified a network of commercial vendors, NGO employees, and others who have colluded to engage in bid-rigging and multiple bribery and kickback schemes related to contracts to deliver humanitarian aid in Syria,” it said.  

Among the other entities being investigated is the International Medical Corps, one of the largest providers of medical aid to Syrians which was involved in tsunami relief in Sri Lanka in 2005.

Allegations relate to the organizations systematically overpaying for essential goods. 

The British newspaper The Telegraph quoted an unnamed senior USAID official as saying private Turkish companies had sold cut-rate blankets and other basic materials at vastly inflated prices and pocketed the difference.


Former British Foreign Secretary David Miliband
"What became clear in the course of this investigation was this was a pretty sophisticated operation," the USAID official said.

Miliband has not commented on the corruption probe.

As British Foreign Secretary, Miliband drew the ire of the majority of Sri Lankans in 2009 when, with the final defeat of the Tigers in sight, he led international efforts to pressure President Rajapaksa to stop the military offensive against the terrorist outfit citing concerns for civilians caught in the crossfire.

But in December 2010, The Guardian and The Daily Telegraph ran articles in which they quoted a leaked US diplomatic cable published by Wiki Leaks which said Miliband was spending two-thirds of his time focusing on the Sri Lankan civil war, largely due to domestic political calculations. The articles quoted Tim Waite, a Foreign Office official as saying that much of [Her Majesty's government] and ministerial attention to Sri Lanka is due to the "very vocal" Tamil diaspora in the UK, numbering over 300,000, who had been protesting in front of Parliament since 6 April.”

According to Wikileaks, this was reported by Richard Mills a United States Embassy worker in UK.  Richard Mills further wrote on his cable, saying that "with UK elections on the horizon and many Tamils living in Labour constituencies with slim majorities, the government is paying particular attention to Sri Lanka, with Miliband recently remarking to Waite that he was spending 60 per cent of his time at the moment on Sri Lanka.”

Miliband in comments during an interview on BBC Radio in August 2009 appeared to support the Tamil Tigers when in response to a question about terrorism he said "yes, there are circumstances in which it is justifiable and yes, there are circumstances in which it is effective, but it is never effective on its own."

After the war, the IRC helped many Sri Lankan Tamils obtain asylum and settle in America, several in California’s Bay Area
Miliband makes a staggering $600,000 as head of the humanitarian group.