(Corrects to Niger in second paragraph)
NIAMEY Feb 25 Niger arrested about 20 doctors
suspected of embezzling funds from a charity promoting
vaccination in poor countries, set up by the Bill and Melinda
Gates Foundation, judicial and police sources said on Monday.
Niger's government has made tackling corruption a priority
since taking office in 2011, and last year President Mahamadou
Issoufou fired two ministers suspected of illegally awarding
The new investigation centres on some $1.5 million donated
between 2007 and 2010 by the GAVI Alliance, backed by the Bill
and Melinda Gates Foundation, the World Health Organization, the
World Bank, UNICEF, donor governments and others.
The non-profit organisation, which aims to improve access to
immunisation in the world's poorest countries, was launched in
2000 with a $750 million grant from the Gates foundation.
"Some 20 doctors and public health managers were the object
of arrest warrants and therefore jailed following an
investigation into embezzlement of GAVI funds," said a judge in
Niamey, who asked not to be named.
The arrests were made over the weekend.
A source close to the public health ministry said that GAVI
had suspended its financing of programmes in Niger until the
embezzled money was reimbursed.
In December, GAVI suspended $6 million in funding to Sierra
Leone after an audit showed misuse of $1.1 million of previously
disbursed funds, including undocumented expenses, cash handouts
and overcharged procurement costs between 2008 and 2011.
Landlocked Niger, one of the poorest countries the world,
has about 850 public doctors for its 17 million people.
Earlier this month, GAVI - which funds bulk-buy vaccination
programmes - said Niger would be one of eight countries in
Africa and Asia taking part in a pilot project to immunise
180,000 girls against cervical cancer.
(Reporting by Abdoulaye Massalatchi; Editing by Louise Ireland)