Red Cross Federation chief vows corruption crackdown

GENEVA (Reuters) - The new president of the world’s largest humanitarian network, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), promised on Tuesday to crack down on corruption after a scandal over Ebola funds in West Africa.

Francesco Rocca, who headed the Italian Red Cross and oversaw its role in the Mediterranean refugee crisis, was elected on Monday to lead the IFRC. He said the organization should have “zero tolerance for any grey area or black hole” and its 190 national societies should adopt “very strict” policies.

“What has happened could jeopardize our credibility,” Rocca told Reuters.

Last month the IFRC said it had uncovered fraud committed during its operations to combat the deadly Ebola virus outbreak in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone in 2014-2016.

The estimated losses totaled 6 million Swiss francs, including suspected collusion between IFRC staff and bank employees in Sierra Leone, fake billing in Guinea and inflated prices and payments in Liberia.

“It’s a huge offense to our volunteers, who spend their lives and sacrifice their time (away from) their family, their friends, their free time, sometimes their job, to spend for humanity,” Rocca said.

“Then someone is creating profit on their shoulders. It is something that is really unacceptable.”

Rocca said other priorities for the organization included recruiting more volunteers to help cope with bigger and more frequent natural disasters, and persuading politicians to take the right decisions.

Politicians were too concerned about the present and needed to think longer-term to solve big problems, Rocca said.

One such issue was the flow of migrants and refugees from Africa to Europe, thousands of whom die every year as they try to cross the Sahara and the Mediterranean.

“If after 30 years people are still escaping for the same reason, perhaps we need to rethink how we have worked so far in that area of the world,” he said.

Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Richard Balmforth