March 07, 2010

Bob Geldof demands proof of BBC Ethiopia aid report

Bob Geldof demands proof of BBC Ethiopia aid report

Bob Geldof: "If there is any money missing I will sue the Ethiopian government"

Bob Geldof has challenged the BBC to substantiate its report that millions raised for famine relief in Ethiopia were diverted to pay for weapons.

The anti-poverty campaigner said there was "not a shred of evidence" Band Aid or Live Aid money was siphoned off.

The report included claims that substantial sums of aid that went into rebel-held areas of Tigray province in 1985 were used to buy arms.

The BBC World Service has said it is standing by its report.

Mr Geldof told BBC One's Andrew Marr show he would personally sue the Ethiopian government and spend the money on aid if any evidence was produced.

'Credible voices'

He said: "Produce me one shred of evidence and I promise you I will professionally investigate it, I will professionally report it, and if there is any money missing I will sue the Ethiopian government for that money back and I will spend it on aid.

"There is not a single shred of evidence that Band Aid or Live Aid money was diverted in any sense, it could not have been."

The news and current affairs editor at the World Service, Andrew Whitehead, said the BBC stood by its report.

Taking part in a discussion with Mr Geldof, Mr Whitehead said the BBC had "quite a lot of evidence" to support the report.

The World Service report featured interviews with two former members of a rebel group who made the allegations dating from the mid-80s.

They told the BBC they posed as merchants in meetings with charity workers to get aid money which they used to fund attempts to overthrow the government.

Gebremedhin Araya and Max Peberdy
Gebremedhin Araya (L) says he posed as a merchant to get aid

One rebel leader estimated that $95m (�63m) from Western governments and charities, including Band Aid, was diverted.

The CIA also alleged aid money was being misused, Mr Whitehead pointed out in a radio discussion.

He accepted the 1985 report from the crime agency was written before Band Aid had gone into Ethiopia, but said it established "a pattern" that international aid was being used for military purposes.

The report concluded: "Some funds that insurgent organisations are raising for relief operations, as a result of increased world publicity, are almost certainly being diverted for military purposes."

Mr Geldof, who was speaking to the BBC from Nairobi, also said one of the sources quoted in the report was a "dissident political exile" who was "not credible".

There is a clear public interest in determining whether some money given as famine relief ended up buying guns and bullets
Andrew Whitehead, BBC World Service

Martin Plaut, the World Service's Africa editor who broke the story, said a lot of his nine-month investigation was spent trying to corroborate or dismiss events.

He said: "We came across a lot of other evidence which made it clear that yes, indeed, some of the money had gone astray."

He added that the "balanced, measured" programme had gone through the entire BBC editorial process and had not simply been "thrown on air".

Mr Geldof and the Band Aid Trust are taking their complaint to the broadcasting regulator Ofcom.

They and a number of other agencies, including Oxfam, the Red Cross, Christian Aid and Save The Children, are also writing to chairman of the BBC Trust, Sir Michael Lyons.

John Kennedy, a co-founder of the Band Aid Trust, said: "The trust is writing to the BBC and Ofcom to complain about the broadcast."

A Christian Aid spokeswoman confirmed it was planning to support the complaint.

BBC News

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