The United Kingdom’s cultural organisation, British Council, has lost at least N43.75 million (£175,000) to fraudsters working in cohort with some its Nigerian employees.
A British Council spokesperson told PREMIUM TIMES that two of its examination staff colluded with fraudsters from outside the organisation to falsify invoices for the hire of venues, furniture and cleaning services.
The serial fraudulent acts were undetected for seven years and the total bill presented could be as high as N93.75 million (£375,000), according to the U.K.’s Telegraph newspaper which first published details of the scam in a terse report on its online blog.
The Communication Manager of the British Council, Desmond Omovie, said the organisation has “strict management procedures in place” to guard against fraud but “the staff colluded to bypass our checks and abused the trust placed on them and therefore were able to perpetrate their fraud without being found out.”
In another case, an exam staff was caught charging fee for services that should have been offered for free and keeping the money for himself or herself.
“We are working to reimburse the victims, and will seek to recover any cost from our insurance,” Mr. Omovie wrote in the email.
The fraud is so entrenched that the British Council has budgeted N50 million (£200,000) this year alone to cover loses accrued from it. Though the total cost for the year may not be more than N7.5 million (£30,000).
Mr. Omovie said the fraud is at no loss to British taxpayers.
“The fraudulent activity took place in our financial commercial exams operation, which is separated by a financial firewall from our work funded by our government grant. Therefore no UK taxpayers’ money was lost through this fraud,” he said.
He said measures were already being taken to prevent future occurrence.
“We have consequently introduced further procedures to ensure that our fraud detection mechanisms are even more robust, and are carrying out further reviews of our financial controls,” he said.
PREMIUM TIMES learnt that the members of staff involved in the fraud have been dismissed and may soon be prosecuted.
Though huge amount may not have been lost in this particular scam, in view of recent budget cuts to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), its operations may come under severe pressure if the British Council continues to fall victim of fraud of this nature.
The FCO is the U.K. ministerial department in-charge of the British government’s foreign relations and the umbrella body for the British Council, the BBC and nine other agencies and public bodies.
According to the 2013 spending review, funding for the FCO dropped by £26 million from what was anticipated from the 2010 spending review. This year, £0.6 million was cut from British Council’s funding.
U.K. Foreign Secretary, William Hague, has ordered the British Council to become less reliant of taxpayers funding and direct its attention more towards funding generated from its commercial operations such as the teaching of English Language.
According to a report in the U.K.’s Daily Mail newspaper, except it gets its hands on additional funding, “cuts will damage the British Council and lead to the closure of historic embassy buildings around the world.”