Four million euro of Irish Aid funding to Uganda has gone missing in a suspected fraud, the Government has disclosed.
Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore has suspended all financial assistance channelled through the office of prime minister Yoweri Museveni after the money was transferred to unauthorised accounts.
Auditors from the Department of Foreign Affairs flew to the capital Kampala to investigate the alleged misappropriation of funds, which was earmarked for education, policing and tackling HIV and Aids in the poorest regions.
Mr Gilmore said he is deeply concerned over the alleged fraud, which was identified by Uganda's own auditor general and reported to Irish officials on Wednesday.
"I regard it as intolerable that any development assistance should be misappropriated or diverted," said Mr Gilmore, Foreign Affairs Minister. "The Government will not provide financial support under our development co-operation programme unless it is clear that Irish money is being spent for the purpose for which it was allocated. I have also asked the Irish ambassador (Anne Webster) in Kampala to convey to the Ugandan government how serious we take this issue and make absolutely clear that while we are very proud of our aid programme, while we see it as very important, we will not tolerate any disapprobation or any misuse of Irish taxpayers' money," he added.
The alleged fraud involves 12 million euro in aid last year from four countries - Ireland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark - for the peace recovery and development programme for northern Uganda. It was established to rebuild the region after decades of conflict and devastation.
A team of officials, led by the evaluation and audit unit of the Department of Foreign Affairs, will try to establish exactly where the money is and if it can be recovered.
Mr Gilmore said the Government, through Irish Aid, was due to pledge 17 million euro to the east African state but will withhold the 16 million still due pending the probe. The payment of another 15 million euro of taxpayers' money to NGOs in the country, such as Goal, Trocaire, World Vision Ireland and Self Help Africa, will continue.
Irish aid agency Goal said it fully supports the decision by Mr Gilmore to suspend this year's payment of direct aid to the Ugandan government until the results of the investigation are known. Jonathan Edgar, acting chief operations officer, said Goal has been advocating for many years the strict policing of aid, to ensure that it gets to those people most in need. "We believe that total transparency and accountability in the handling and distribution of overseas aid to be of vital importance in the fight against abject poverty and deprivation in the developing world," he added.
Elsewhere, Pat Breen, chair of the Dail's committee on foreign affairs and trade, said the allegations are serious and disturbing. "The committee is deeply concerned that Irish aid money may have been misappropriated and not used for the purpose it was intended," he said. "Misappropriation of aid funding cannot be tolerated. Not only does it divert aid from those who really need help and assistance, it also undermines public confidence in our aid programmes which are held in high regard internationally."