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German NGO denies corruption allegations

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only
by Stefan Nicola
Berlin (UPI) Jan 20, 2011
The head of AGEF, a German aid group active in Afghanistan and Iraq, strongly denied corruption allegations against his group, calling them a "smear campaign."

Meanwhile, Afghan's attorney general launched an official investigation against AGEF after its Afghan employees pressed charges.

AGEF's German employees have left the Kabul office and local employees haven't been paid, German public broadcaster NDR info reports, citing Amanullah Eman, a spokesman for the attorney general.

"We know that several AGEF employees have pressed charges against the group," Eman told NDR info in an interview included in a radio report aired Thursday. "They say AGEF isn't paying them any longer. The German employees have left. We have launched an investigation."

AGEF is specialized in reintegrating migrants who return to their home countries. The group since 2002 received around $27 million in taxpayer money for aid projects mainly in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Kosovo, figures from the German government reveal.

In a telephone interview Thursday with United Press International, Klaus Duennhaupt, the head of AGEF, said he didn't want to comment on the NDR info report except that AGEF's office hasn't had a German employee in around a year.

"And that wages haven't been paid is simply wrong," he said. "The December salaries have been paid and the January salaries are about to be paid."

Either way, pressure on AGEF is rising. The German government has commissioned an audit into AGEF's work because of corruption allegations. Berlin recently forwarded the interim results of the audit to the Berlin prosecution office, NDR info said Thursday. The public broadcaster has had a team of investigative reporters researching AGEF for several weeks.

The allegations were first tabled in November by the Neue Osnarbruecker Zeitung, or NOZ. The newspaper said AGEF may have mishandled government money, citing internal AGEF documents and a range of alleged actions that weren't transparent.

Duennhaupt strongly refutes the corruption allegations.

"The reports are based on anonymous allegations," Duennhaupt told UPI in an interview in his Berlin office Wednesday. "It's a smear campaign ... We have nothing to hide."

He added that NOZ's reports were based on lax and sometimes erroneous research and rely on material taken out of context. The NDR info report, he said Thursday via telephone, was following similar patterns.

In a Dec. 22 decision by a Hamburg court, AGEF won an injunction against 16 passages from the NOZ articles. The passages directly relate to the corruption allegations. (The newspaper is reporting on the allegations in general but isn't allowed to reprint the concrete statements.)

Duennhaupt said he's convinced that someone is out to damage his and AGEF's reputation.

Allegations of business conduct that wasn't transparent -- reported by the NOZ and NDR info -- are unfair, he said. Working in a developing country, Duennhaupt said, sometimes makes transparency difficult.

"What is normal from an Asian or Middle Eastern standpoint might lack transparency from a German one," he said. "Not having a normal banking system, for example, forces you to find different ways to handle payments."

The reports have sparked the German Green Party to press the government on what it had done to prevent a possible corruption case at AGEF, after the NOZ reports had indicated that the group may have benefited from all-too lax oversight within the Development Ministry, where Duennhaupt is said to foster excellent contacts.

The detailed questions resulted in a reply from the German government that was 15 pages long but did little to fortify or clear up the corruption allegations. That's the role of the new audit, which is poised to shed light onto whether or not someone's out to smear Duennhaupt and AGEF.

"We have always seen professionally done audits as something sensible and necessary because one learns from them," Duennhaupt said Wednesday.

He mentioned a 2009 audit by PriceWaterhouseCoopers, commissioned by British authorities, that he said culminated in "constructive discussions" over transparency, lessons learned at AGEF and a "positive final rating." (Duennhaupt showed this reporter the cover of the report, which carried an August date, but added he couldn't share the details of it.)

He added, however, that he fears the current audit commissioned by the German government could culminate in a negative assessment of AGEF's work because of what he said was "sensational reporting" in the past weeks.

"There won't be a search for what was good and bad but for what was bad," he said. "They will look for intransparency because it was in the papers."

The German opposition isn't convinced that the allegations are a smear campaign and they say they fear that the Development Ministry may have played a role in all this by ignoring AGEF's alleged transparency shortcomings. The Greens are prepared to ask painful questions at Friday's parliamentary session on Afghanistan.

"I'm increasingly suspicious," Ute Koczy, the development policy spokeswoman of the Green Party, told United Press International in a telephone interview. "From what I'm hearing, the new audit into AGEF is going to be delayed again, due to inaccurate accounting. The German government and AGEF have to answer the allegations with maximal transparency -- in one direction or another."

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