Money hoax at embassy
A SPECIAL AUDIT ordered by the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has uncovered a foreign exchange scam and other misappropriation of Government funds at Barbados’ embassy in Venezuela.
Auditor General Leigh Trotman revealed in his 2010 annual report, laid in Parliament this week, that the investigation was carried out into the affairs of the embassy between April 1, 2008, and March 31, 2010, after concerns were raised about the use of the embassy’s bank account.
He said funds were used to purchase foreign currency for official overseas duties even though no travel was involved.
Trotman also indicated that a red flag was raised over reported instructions to a member of the accounts staff to alter the accounting records in a manner that would conceal the foreign exchange currency transactions.
The Auditor General revealed that between June and November 2009, an embassy official requested and received approval from the Venezuelan state agency to purchase five sums totalling US$52 433 for official overseas travel. That officer used the embassy’s funds to purchase the foreign exchange and then transferred four of the five amounts into a personal bank account in Miami. The other amount was paid in cash.
“It should be noted that with regard to these transactions no overseas travel was scheduled or sanctioned by the Ministry [of Foreign Affairs] as required, and none was undertaken,” Trotman reported.
He stated that another request for US$16 780 was made in December 2009 to facilitate a 17-day official overseas trip in the name of another embassy official without that individual’s knowledge. Investigations showed that sum also ended up in the personal bank account in Miami.
“The deception used in applying for funds when not scheduled to travel could have brought the good image of Barbados into disrepute and should be treated in a serious manner,” the Auditor General noted.
Trotman indicated the money was subsequently refunded by the individual in Venezuelan currency, but he stressed that did not negate the serious nature of the offence.H
e revealed the official also purchased personal computer software from an American-based company using embassy funds and was then refunded the money although there was no evidence the software was installed in embassy property.
Trotman also reported that claims for medical fees and medication totalling more than $25 000 were refunded to an embassy official without consultation with the Ministry of Finance prior to the expense being incurred and in the absence of adequate supporting documentation for the refund.
“In some cases, the supporting bills did not reflect medical expenses,” Trotman noted.
In addition to his recommendations for better financial management at the embassy, Trotman concluded that the senior official who committed the “serious breaches” be subjected to disciplinary action under the Public Service Act.
Efforts yesterday to reach Major Charles Brathwaite, the ambassador in charge at the embassy during the period of the special audit, proved unsuccessful. He was recalled to Barbados March last year.