Sh4b stolen from Covid-19 kitty in US traced to Kenya
Over Sh4 billion stolen from a kitty to feed children during the Covid-19 pandemic in the United States found its way to Kenya where it was allegedly spent on luxurious properties and prime pieces of land.
The US Department of Justice yesterday revealed it had begun investigations into how 47 people connived to steal over $250 million (Sh30 billion) from a child nutrition programme during the Covid-19 pandemic that started in 2020.
A chunk of the money for children in the State of Minnesota found its way to the country as some of the accused allegedly spent it on high-end acquisitions including purchasing luxurious vehicles and prime properties along the coastal beach as the world battled with the coronavirus pandemic that killed millions globally.
In one of the most daring fraud schemes described by the US Attorney General Merrick B. Garland, in a statement posted on the Justice Department’s website, as the biggest yet targeting Covid funds, the indicted individuals are accused of creating fake companies to swindle millions of money set aside for children nutrition programmes in the state.
The accused targeted the Federal Child Nutrition Program which is under the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and is funded by the federal government.
During the pandemic, the US government allocated millions of dollars to the programme in a bid to cover for food shortages among vulnerable children during the pandemic.
In Minnesota, the programme was administered by the State Department of Education which acquired the services of various authorised organisations working under strict regulations. However, during the pandemic the Department of Agriculture eased some of the restrictions allowing more organisations to participate in food distribution to the needy children.
Aimee Bock, who is the main accused, is the founder of the Feeding Our Future, which was involved in the food distribution programme in Minnesota.
The Justice Department investigators said the firm conspired with several individuals to create fake companies which were used to swindle millions of dollars in the guise it was feeding thousands of hungry children in the state.
One of the accused identified as Abdiaziz Shafii Farah, was said to have used the proceeds amounting to $40 million (Sh4 billion) from Bock’s company and he used the money to buy a range of top-end properties in Kenya.
Farah and seven others operating a company named Empire Cuisine and Market LLC have been charged with conspiracy, wire fraud, federal programs bribery, and money laundering.
The owners of Empire Cuisine and Market LLC and their co-conspirators opened dozens of shell companies they used to demand payment for services found by the investigators not to have been rendered.
“Over the course of the fraud scheme, the defendants claimed to have served millions of meals. Based on their fraudulent claims, the defendants received more than $40 million in Federal Child Nutrition Program funds, which they misappropriated for their own personal benefit, including expenditures such as vehicles, travel, real estate, and property in Kenya,” said the department.
The others are Mohamed Jama Ismail, Mahad Ibrahim, Abdimajid Mohamed Nur, Said Shafii Farah, Abdiwahab Maalim Aftin, Mukhtar Mohamed Shariff and Hayat Mohamed Nur.
In another case, Liban Yasin Alishire, Ahmed Yasin Ali and Khadar Jigre Adan have been accused of conspiring to defraud the US government of $1.6 million (Sh160 million) in a similar scheme.
The trio who run different companies in Minneapolis benefitted from the fraud as they were also roped in by Bock to claim funds for fake feeding programmes.
The stolen money in this case was also used to purchase properties in Kenya.
“Based on their fraudulent claims, the defendants received more than $1.6 million in Federal Child Nutrition Program funds, which they misappropriated for their own personal benefit, including expenditures such as vehicles, real estate, and beach property in Kenya,” said the Justice department.
FBI Director Christopher Wray said they would not relent until those who attempted to line their pockets with illegally acquired proceeds.
“The defendants went to great lengths to exploit a program designed to feed underserved children in Minnesota amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, fraudulently diverting millions of dollars designated for the program for their own personal gain. These charges send the message that the FBI and our law enforcement partners remain vigilant and will vigorously pursue those who attempt to enrich themselves through fraudulent means,” he said.
The fraud mirrors the Kemsa Covid scandal that saw senior figures in the previous administration feather their own nests with millions of shillings from inflated costs of equipment for the pandemic response.