British police have opened an investigation into the disposition of funds that were raised by the Zimbabwe-based Girl Child Network of CNN Hero of the Year Betty Makoni based on complaints the money collected to pay for an operation for an ailing young woman may have been diverted.
Girl Child Network Co-Founder Priscilla Nyathi said Essex police and the Southend-on-Sea Fraud Squad were asked by people who helped raise the funds to look into the alleged misuse of an undisclosed sum.
The funds were raised to pay for surgery for 18-year-old Taremeredzwa Nomatter Mapungwana following an international appeal that raised US$20,000 in Zimbabwe and more than £15,000 in the U.K.
Nyathi said her organization paid St. Bartholomew Hospital £18,000 pounds for Mapungwana's s surgery, leaving a balance of £3,862 outstanding for the operation to treat a tumor in the patient's neck.
Nyathi told VOA Studio 7 reporter Gibbs Dube that a heated meeting was held Wednesday between Makoni, herself and representatives of a private company thought to have deposited some of the funds raised into its own account.
Nyathi said that although US$20,000 was raised in Zimbabwe, organizers in the U.K. received only £8,000 pounds, raising suspicions that a substantial sum was diverted in the course of the fundraiser sponsored by leading Zimbabwe mobile provider Econet and Stanbic Bank.
Nyathi said she did not know how much money was unaccounted for on the Zimbabwean end of the operation, but said her organization would cooperate fully with the authorities carrying out the investigation.
But Barbara Nyagomo-Mambo, who led the campaign, said the Girl Child Network founders have not been forthcoming with key information as to the funds raised and suspected to have been diverted. She said the matter came to a head on Taremeredzwa’s Facebook page as subscribers demanded action.
“The co-founders of the Girl Child Network, Betty and Priscilla, have different figures and are saying different things about the money raised by members of the public and various companies. This worries me a lot since I publicly spearheaded the fund raising campaign,” she said, adding that “I can’t say a lot at this stage as this is likely to jeopardize police investigations."
Media reports said meanwhile that Makoni has left Mapungwana at the home of an aunt in Ashford, Kent, where the family is living hand-to-mouth. The girl is reported to have developed another tumor requiring medical attention.
Nyathi confirmed this development noting that Mapungwana's aunt, Memory Phhiri, and the girl's mother, were unable to properly care for her.
VOA was unable to reach Makoni on Thursday for comment on her mobile or fixed-line telephone numbers.