Charity orders inquiry into disaster aid

Mörel was devastated by floods in October 2000 Keystone

A Swiss charity has launched an investigation into how millions of francs were distributed following deadly floods in the southwest of the country four years ago.

This content was published on March 28, 2005

It follows the revelation that one commune in canton Valais wrongly received SFr860,000 ($715,000).

Swiss Solidarity, the fundraising arm of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation, raised more than SFr74 million after heavy rains triggered floods and mudslides in October 2000.

Towns and villages in cantons Valais, Ticino and the Italian region of Val d’Aosta were devastated. Thirteen people died in the Swiss village of Gondo alone.

The amount raised surpassed the charity’s previous record of SFr49 million collected for victims of the war in Kosovo.

At the time Swiss Solidarity described it as an "unrivalled achievement" and promised that money would be "distributed fairly and put to good use".

But last week the financial authorities in canton Valais revealed that the 500-strong commune of Mörel, which suffered serious flood damage, had wrongly received SFr860,000.

Swiss Solidarity has now ordered the canton to conduct an audit of the millions paid to 33 communes in the region.

"They will have go over all the aid money handed out to the communes in the aftermath of the floods," said Roland Jeanneret, coordinator of Swiss Solidarity, confirming a report in the SonntagsZeitung.

Judicial investigation

Mörel has been ordered to return the money and a judicial investigation has been launched to find out whether the affair is the result of a simple misunderstanding or a deliberate act.

According to the canton’s financial control department, the authorities in Mörel failed to declare to Swiss Solidarity that they had already received more than SFr1 million in private donations.

Marianne Imfeld, the commune’s president, has vehemently denied any wrongdoing.

"We have nothing to hide. My conscience is clear," she told the SonntagsBlick. "The accusation that we might have misappropriated funds is not fair."

"If we have made a mistake without knowing it, we are ready to return the money," added Imfeld.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

The commune of Mörel, which has 500 residents, was badly affected by the floods in October 2000.

According to the authorities in canton Valais, Mörel received more than SFr1 million in private donations. They say the commune failed to declare to Swiss Solidarity that it had received this sum.

The charity raised what was at the time a record SFr74 million following a nationwide fund-raising effort for the flood-hit regions.

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