POLITICS
04/03/2012 01:43 EDT | Updated 06/03/2012 05:12 EDT

Man denies making off with aid money meant for small African village

OTTAWA - Canadian officials don't need to look far for a man being sought over allegations he made off with aid money meant for a small African village.

The Burundian man, who holds permanent-resident status in Canada, lives and works in Quebec.

Emmanuel Batururimi, who ran a non-governmental organization called CFORES in Mali, denies the allegations against him and says he cannot understand why the Canadian government claims it is unable to find him.

In recent years, he has been involved with an association of Quebec travel agents. Yet documents show government officials couldn't trace him.

"As of April 4, 2011, the Malian authorities could not trace (Batururimi)," says a Canadian International Development Agency report from last year.

"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."

Batururimi calls accusations made against him false.

"CIDA has all the means to locate a Canadian citizen," he wrote in a lengthy French statement.

"Instead of choosing to humiliate my organization and the person in charge of it, all channels should have been explored, which was not the case. That is why I am considering action against the culprits."

A CIDA report on an aid project to improve sanitation in a small village in Mali says Batururimi apparently fled Mali after Canadian diplomats went to court to try to get money back for an unfinished aid project.

The document says Batururimi's group signed a $70,000 deal in May 2008 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.

But the document says the NGO's request for more money after five months on the job raised eyebrows at the Canadian embassy in Mali.

The report says the embassy dispatched an expert to the village to assess the NGO's work. The expert reported back that there was still about $30,000 worth of work left to do.

Canada's ambassador to Mali wrote to Batururimi in July 2009 demanding he pay back any money that was not actually used for the project and threatening legal action. The CIDA document says the embassy never heard back from him.

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

"Mr. (Batururimi), 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 the CIDA report, which is written in French.

The Canadian Press obtained the CIDA report under the Access to Information Act.

Batururimi contacted The Canadian Press after the news agency reported on the document last month. Efforts to find Batururimi, whose name CIDA officials misspelled in the report, were unsuccessful prior to publication.

He was subsequently provided with the CIDA report and asked to comment.

"The document delivered to the press shows that (CIDA) could not find any trace of me and I fled," Batururimi wrote.

"This is evidence of mismanagement and, worse, bad faith, because I have well-known addresses in Mali, where I have offices; in Canada, where I have a home and have lived in since 1993; and in Burundi, where I registered at the Canadian consulate on my arrival."

The Department of Foreign Affairs was not immediately available for comment.