UW trying to recoup money believed stolen in Africa

Staff writerOctober 7, 2013 

Former employees at centers affiliated with the University of Washington in two African countries a stole tens of thousands of dollars by filing fraudulent expense reports, the university reported to state auditors.

The cases center on the Namibia and Tanzania offices of the International Training and Education Center for Health. The center, a UW partnership with the University of California at San Francisco, spends $70 million a year in mostly federal money to improve health-care systems around the globe.

In a case that is now the subject of a trial in the Namibian court system, UW says a financial accountant in that country wired $56,000 to her personal bank account and a sister's and friend's  accounts over 17 months ending in January 2012, using fake expenses to disguise the transactions.

While the school tries to recoup that money, it says in Tanzania it has already received "full restitution of the misappropriated federal funds." Workers there faked travel receipts and expenses to take $18,358 in 2011, the university says.

The school also questioned another $9,807 tied to altered or missing documents. 

The university had internal auditors and a contract accountant investigate the irregularities.

Investigators in State Auditor Troy Kelley's office found the university did not have enough independent reviews and checks and called for tighter controls. Auditors also said the university should have come to the state auditor's and attorney general's offices before approving agreements for restitution. That's required by state law, they wrote.

The university wrote in a response that it has strengthened its controls over travel advances and wire payments. It wrote:

While we acknowledge that state law does require UW to obtain SAO and AG approval for restitution agreements, we believe there are cases, especially in overseas operations where it may be judicious for us to negotiate an agreement before employment is terminated and while those involved can still be contacted. In the Tanzania case full restitution of the misappropriated federal funds was obtained.    
UPDATE 1 p.m.: The auditor's office says the former employees involved were Tanzania nationals Reginald Rongoma and Luis Francis, both finance assistants, and Namibia national Chamaine Raatz, a financial accountant.


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