Ex-Oxfam official denies organizing orgies as Haiti opens probe

By AFP   February 15, 2018 | 06:22 pm PT
Ex-Oxfam official denies organizing orgies as Haiti opens probe
The logo on the front of an Oxfam bookshop is photographed in Glasgow on February 10, 2018. The British Government announced late on February 9 it was reviewing all work with Oxfam amid revelations the charity's staff hired prostitutes in Haiti during a 2011 relief effort on the earthquake-hit island. Photo by AFP/Andy Buchanan
'A lot of people, including international media, will be embarrassed when they hear my version of events.'

A former Oxfam country director at the center of sexual misconduct allegations embroiling the London-based charity has denied organizing orgies, as Haiti announced it would open a probe into the spiralling scandal.

Roland van Hauwermeiren, who led Oxfam's team in Haiti, was one of three staff members who resigned over allegations they hired young prostitutes following the devastating 2010 earthquake there.

"I have never been into a brothel, a nightclub or a bar in that country," the 68-year-old Belgian national said in a four-page letter published on the website of Belgian VTM News.

"There were numerous men and women who tried to get into my house with all sorts of excuses to demand money, work, or to offer sexual services. But I never gave into these advances," he said.

Van Hauwermeiren, who has taken part in an internal enquiry at the British charity, said he told Oxfam that he had "had intimate relations some three times at (his) house".

"This was with an honourable, mature woman, who was not an earthquake victim nor a prostitute. And I did not give her any money," he said, adding that he was however "deeply ashamed" of the incident.

In comments to reporters at the newspaper Het Nieuwsblad, who tracked him down in an unidentified town on the Belgian coast, Van Hauwermeiren said that a lot of the information in the media had been "exaggerations".

"A lot of people, including international media, will be embarrassed when they hear my version of events," Van Hauwermeiren said, adding: "Some things are described correctly, but I also have read lots of lies and exaggerations."

"The hardest thing is that my family has rejected me," said Van Hauwermeiren, who was previously head of Oxfam's mission in Chad.

He added that he would "soon" make an official statement through his lawyer.

Haiti opens probe

The Times of London reported last Friday that young sex workers were hired by senior staff in Haiti after the earthquake which devastated the poor Caribbean country and left up to 300,000 people dead.

Groups of young prostitutes were invited to homes and guesthouses paid for by the charity for sex parties, according to one source who claimed to have seen footage of an orgy with sex workers wearing Oxfam T-shirts.

Haiti's foreign minister said Thursday that his country would open a probe into the scandal.

The Haitian government "wants to shed light on this issue and find those responsible, those who are involved in this case and, if found guilty, to punish them in accordance with the law," Haitian Foreign Affairs Minister Antonio Rodrigue told reporters.

The prostitution allegations were not passed to Haitian authorities at the time of the probe, but Oxfam said Friday it had now passed on the names of the men involved.

The charity admitted Thursday it rehired one of those sacked in Haiti just months later and is now checking whether any complaints were subsequently made.

Gurpreet Singh worked as a consultant in Ethiopia from October to December 2011, a decision Oxfam said was "a serious error and should never have happened".

Oxfam has denied allegations that it was not transparent about the scandal, which has led to the resignation of its deputy head.

The British government has warned that it could cut off funding for the charity, which amounted to around £32 million (36 million euros, $44 million) last year.

Retired archbishop and Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu announced Thursday that he had quit his role as an ambassador for Oxfam.

"The Archbishop is deeply disappointed by allegations of immorality and possible criminality involving humanitarian workers linked to the charity," said a statement from his office in South Africa.

"He is also saddened by the impact of the allegations on the many thousands of good people who have supported Oxfam's righteous work."

A sex abuse complaint had been lodged against Van Hauwermeiren in 2004 when he was working for the British charity Merlin in Liberia.

The French charity Action Contre la Faim, for which he worked later in Bangladesh, said they were never made aware of those allegations.

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