US 'concerned' over misused funds allegations at UNAIDS

LONDON — The U.S. government has expressed concern about allegations of misused funds at the U.N.'s AIDS agency after a report by The Associated Press this week revealed ongoing financial and sexual misconduct problems at the agency.

In a statement late Tuesday, the U.S. State Department said the government remains "committed to ensuring that UNAIDS has a clear and robust approach to eliminating all forms of harassment" within the organization.

Earlier this week, the AP reported the U.N. AIDS agency remains embroiled in unfinished misconduct investigations involving a whistleblower, Martina Brostrom, who went public last year with claims she was sexually assaulted by a top deputy.

"We are concerned any time that there are potential allegations of fraud or misuse of funds," the U.S. spokesperson said. The U.S. is UNAIDS' biggest donor.

Confidential documents obtained by the AP show UNAIDS is grappling with previously unreported allegations that Brostrom and her former supervisor may have taken part in "fraudulent practices and misuse of travel funds."

The ongoing turmoil is a damaging distraction for an agency at the center of multibillion-dollar, taxpayer-funded U.N. efforts to end the global AIDS epidemic by 2030. The virus affects more than 37 million people worldwide and kills more than 900,000 people every year.

"The U.S. highly values transparency and due diligence and in this context, supports the timely completion of all investigations," said the U.S. spokesperson, who added that the government remains "committed" to a strong U.N. AIDS agency. The U.S. stopped short of saying whether any funding would be withheld.

After Brostrom's public charges that she was sexually assaulted last year, an independent review of UNAIDS found there was a "toxic" atmosphere at the agency and that it was plagued by "defective leadership." UNAIDS chief Michel Sidibe announced he would leave in June — six months before his term was set to end.

Sweden, UNAIDS' no. 2 donor, announced last year it would suspend its funding to the agency until the leadership had changed.

"There is a massive backlash in the U.S. and the U.K. against multilateralism, and all of this helps fuel the argument, of why should we fund these far-away agencies when we have these other problems at home?" said Devi Sridhar, a global public health expert at the University of Edinburgh.

She said that agencies need to be more transparent when such problems occur and take immediate steps to resolve them.

"If these agencies cannot account for how they spend their funds, then there's no reason for countries to donate to them," Sridhar said. "These ongoing allegations certainly don't help and just add fuel to the fire."

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AP Diplomatic Writer Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.

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