Image: UN Photo / Elma Okic BY 2.0
Confidential materials show that authorities launched a sprawling anti-corruption probe into Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus when his WHO mandate was up for renewal
(Paris, October 2, 2023) – Former Ethiopian minister and director general of the World Health Organization (WHO) since 2017, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, was targeted by an Ethiopian government investigation that appears to have been politically motivated. The investigation, which relied on questionable information sources and unsubstantiated allegations, took place as Tedros sought another five-year term at the helm of the WHO, the Platform to Protect Whistleblowers in Africa (PPLAAF) said today.
PPLAAF uncovered the government investigation in a large collection of internal Ethiopian government emails and documents made available by pro-transparency organization Distributed Denial of Secrets (DDoSecrets), which the group received from an anonymous source. The materials originate from the Financial Intelligence Service, an Ethiopian government agency responsible for monitoring suspicious financial transactions in the country.
After examining Financial Intelligence Service communications on the probe targeting Tedros, PPLAAF shared its findings with various media partners: Bloomberg in the United States; Süddeutsche Zeitung in Germany; Tamedia in Switzerland; and The Continent in South Africa. The media partners independently evaluated the materials and used other sources of information to verify the internal documents and shed light on both the government investigation and a broader intimidation campaign.
“When government officials subvert the fight against corruption and financial crime to settle political scores, it undermines the rule of law and is a setback to authentic good governance efforts”, said Gabriel Bourdon-Fattal from PPLAAF. “The Ethiopian government materials give us a rare insight into the bureaucracy and mechanics of such targeted acts.”
Apparent Political Motivations Linked to Tigray Conflict
The Financial Intelligence Service’s investigative effort took place in 2021 around the time Tedros began speaking more openly about the war in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, a conflict that started in November 2020, and as he came up for another mandate in his position at the helm of the WHO. During the same period, senior Ethiopian officials decried Tedros as biased and even claimed he provided material support to Tigrayan forces, accusing him of facilitating weapons transfers. The Ethiopian government opposed Tedros’ renewal as WHO director general.
In July 2021, just months after the lengthy renewal process for WHO director general kicked off, the Financial Intelligence Service materials show the agency began compiling evidence, including through requests to Ethiopian commercial banks for information on Tedros, his wife, and their children. Then, roughly three weeks before the WHO nomination period was set to close, a key investigator sent a lengthy report summarizing the agency’s findings to the head of the Financial Intelligence Service, asking his superior to quickly review the report. “I attached part one new report with supportive documents which needs your argent [sic] order,” he wrote in English.
The report, entitled “Inspection and Analysis Report on Suspected Embezzlement and Money Laundering of Proceeds of Crime by Tedros Adhanom: Part 1,” laid out a litany of serious allegations against the WHO head related to his tenure as Ethiopian minister of health, including abuse of office and misappropriation of government money. The agency report recommended that criminal referrals be made for Tedros, even suggesting that his medical degree could be revoked. The report also recommended similar criminal referrals for people and entities alleged to have conspired with Tedros, including the German government-owned development agency, the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ).
However, the Financial Intelligence Service’s evidence was tenuous. For example, one key piece of evidence intended to show that Tedros broke the law in procuring substandard HIV test kits as minister of health covered activities that took place after he left that position in 2012. The agency relied on witness statements about the potential misconduct that were inconclusive and did not directly or indirectly cite Tedros. Notably, police took these statements about two years before the Financial Intelligence Service conducted its investigation.
The Ethiopian Financial Intelligence Service investigation was not the only effort to target the WHO director general. In an interview regarding the government investigation, Tedros told Bloomberg his uncle was “killed in cold blood” for political reasons in December 2022. He also said the Ethiopian government would not renew his son’s passport for several months, stranding him abroad. He himself was followed near his home in Switzerland by apparent Ethiopian agents, Tedros also told Bloomberg.
PPLAAF and the media partners sent requests for comment to Ethiopian government entities, those targeted by or referenced in the investigation, and others. The Ethiopian government did not respond to any of these requests. Tedros sat for an interview with Bloomberg in August about the probe and denied all of the allegations against him. In its responses, the German government-owned development agency GIZ said it had seen no indications of financial or other misconduct in a project the Financial Intelligence Service said was used as a vehicle for misappropriating government funds.
PPLAAF is a non-governmental organization established in 2017 to protect whistleblowers, as well as to advocate and engage in strategic litigation on their behalf when their revelations deal with the general interests of African citizens.
For more information, please contact:
Gabriel BOURDON-FATTAL, Director of Programs:
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PPLAAF website: https://pplaaf.org