October 19, 2018 / 10:58 PM / a month ago

Liberia launches investigation into U.S. charity after rape allegations

MONROVIA (Reuters) - Liberia’s government has launched an investigation into U.S. charity More Than Me (MTM) following allegations that a founding staff member raped several children in its care, government ministers said on Friday.

U.S. news website ProPublica last week detailed allegations that before 2014 the charity’s Liberian co-founder, Macintosh Johnson, sexually assaulted at least 10 girls over several years including on MTM property. The report has sparked outrage among Liberians.  

Johnson was arrested in 2014 and died of AIDS two years later in prison while awaiting re-trial for alleged rape.

MTM and MTM officials in the United States did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Friday

In a statement last week, the U.S. charity said its leadership should have recognized warning signs that Johnson was abusing children. “To all the girls who were raped by Macintosh Johnson in 2014 and before: we failed you,” it said.

In a letter on its website, MTM said it would cooperate fully with the Liberian investigation, and it retained U.S. law firm McLane Middleton to conduct an external audit of the organization. It also said that when the charity learned of Johnson’s crimes in 2014, the group immediately reported them to the Liberian government and took action to prevent a recurrence.

A Liberian committee representing the ministers of gender, justice, education, health, youth, labor and finance has been established to investigate the matter, said Minister of Gender, Children and Social Protection Williametta Saydee Tarr on Friday.

Tarr said the committee would request the Liberian and American cell phone records of Katie Meyler, an American who founded MTM in 2008 with the stated aim of protecting vulnerable girls from sexual exploitation. Meyler did not immediately respond to a request for comment via LinkedIn.

In the letter posted on MTM’s website, the group said that Meyler had taken a leave of absence and the board chairman had resigned.

MTM now runs 19 Liberian schools with around 4,000 students and has received more than $600,000 in financing from the U.S. government, according to ProPublica.  

Tarr said the committee wished to question all MTM employees. The education ministry will review the teaching credentials of MTM teachers and enact laws to set minimum requirements for expatriate teachers and principals, Tarr said.

MTM’s statement last week said the Liberian education ministry was welcome to inspect its flagship academy at any time.

“The president does not take lightly to this embarrassment, which threatens and most importantly puts our children at risk,” Eugene Fahngon, Liberia’s deputy minister of information, told Reuters after the news conference.

Meyler’s work has been praised by former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sireaf, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Oprah Winfrey. In 2014, Time Magazine named her and others fighting Liberia’s Ebola epidemic as its Person of the Year.

Reporting By James Giahyue; Writing by Cooper Inveen; Editing by Aaron Ross and Cynthia Osterman

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