Three men used the threat of physical harm to try and keep a key witness from pointing the finger at them.

By Joe McDonough

Posted on February 19, 2018

Three of the suspects Oxfam was investigating over sexual exploitation in Haiti in 2011, also attempted to silence a key witness through physical intimidation, according to the UK-based charity’s internal investigation report.

The record, which reveals the investigation process and includes interviews with some 40 employees, has finally been released for public consumption after the British government threatened to pull funding, and with Haiti considering revoking Oxfam’s permission to work in the country.

On top of confirming staff were fired over the exploitation of local women in the aftermath of the earthquake, and disgraced country director Roland van Hauwermeiren was allowed to resign in exchange for his cooperation, it revealed a staff member was dismissed for using the charity’s computing equipment to download what The Guardian understands was pirated “pornographic and illegal material” to a laptop.

Witness threatened

The names of the three men alleged to have threatened, bullied and intimidated witnesses are redacted in the 11-page report.

However, the full unedited version is due to be handed over to Haitian government on Monday, along with an apology for its poor handling of the situation.

According to the report, the investigation was still in progress when the line manager of one of the suspects leaked classified details to an unconnected member of staff.

Once the identity of the witness was known, the three suspects allegedly threatened the colleague in an effort to stop the person from following through with the claims.

This incident led to further charges of bullying and intimidation against these three members of staff.

The Guardian understands the staff members involved in the sex scandal came from across all areas of the team’s operations, from managers to assistants.

It has also been revealed that despite the report concluding other charities should be warned about “problem staff”, several of the accused moved on to other positions within the aid sector.

Van Hauwermeiren accepted a senior role with Action Against Hunger in Bangladesh, and the organisation says Oxfam failed to mention his forced exit.

Oxfam even re-hired a former staffer as a consultant in Ethiopia just months after being sacked. It has since been described as a serious error by the charity.

The cover-up and poor handling of the situation led to Oxfam’s deputy chief Penny Lawrence resigning last week.

“It is now clear that these allegations — involving the use of prostitutes and which related to behaviour of both the Country Director and members of his team in Chad — were raised before he moved to Haiti,” she said last week.

“As programme director at the time, I am ashamed that this happened on my watch and I take full responsibility.”

The organisation will now face more scrutiny from the Charity Commission.