03/11/2012 11:16 EDT | Updated 05/11/2012 05:12 EDT

African NGO Makes Off With Thousands In Aid Money Meant For Mali Village: Documents

OTTAWA - A Burundian man with permanent-resident status in Canada made off with thousands of dollars in Canadian aid money that was supposed to help people living in one of the poorest countries in the world, newly released documents show.

Officials at the Canadian International Development Agency do not expect to recover $30,000 from the head of a non-governmental organization who apparently fled Mali after Canadian diplomats went to court to try to get the money back.

Documents obtained by The Canadian Press under the Access to Information Act show how money meant to improve sanitation in a small village in Mali went missing.

In May 2008, Canada's ambassador to Mali and a group called Cercle de Formation, Recherche, Economique et Sociale, or CFORES, signed a $70,000 deal to rehabilitate latrines and build five hangars and a drainage ditch in the village of Sanankoroba, about 30 kilometres south of the capital, Bamako.

The money came from the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives, which provides small-scale, short-term support for community projects through local NGOs and other grassroots organizations such as village councils, co-operatives and women's groups.

The group received 90 per cent of the money up front. The rest was to be paid when the work was done.

But five months after signing the deal, CFORES asked Canada's embassy in Mali for the rest of the project money, as well as another $35,000, to help cover "unforeseen difficulties on the ground."

The request for more money raised eyebrows at the embassy.

Before handing over any more cash, Canada's ambassador to Mali dispatched an expert to the village to see what work had been done. The expert found "technical shortcomings" and half-finished projects. While the hangars were almost finished, only 60 per cent of the 100-metre ditch was done and work had not yet started on the latrines.

The expert estimated there was still about $30,000 worth of work left to do.

The Canadian embassy demanded its money back and sought an explanation from CFORES and its president, identified in internal CIDA documents as "Mr. Bartururimi." Months later, Bartururimi wrote back to the embassy with what was deemed to be a "unsatisfactory" explanation.

The new Canadian ambassador to Mali, Virginie Saint-Louis, sent a letter to Bartururimi in July 2009, again demanding he pay back any money that was not actually used for the project, but this time also threatening legal action. The embassy never heard back from Bartururimi.

The embassy went to court in February 2010. Bartururimi was summoned to court a month later, but he did not show up.

"Mr. Bartururimi, who is of Burundian nationality but possesses permanent-resident status in Canada, did not attend the hearing on March 3, 2010, and was put under arrest warrant in Mali," says a CIDA report, which is written in French.

He was still on the lam last spring.

"As of April 4, 2011, the Malian authorities could not trace Mr Bartururimi," the document says. "Due to the limited resources of the Malian authorities, and that the president of CFORES seems to spend the majority of his time outside of Mali, the probabilities of recovery are considered very low."

CIDA referred questions to Foreign Affairs, which declined to comment Sunday.