London, Nov 6 : Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe has been accused of pilfering 4.5 million pounds from funds provided by an international aid agency meant to help millions of seriously ill people.
The missing money was part of a 65million pound grant from the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria, one of the world's largest private organisations dedicated to helping poor countries to combat disease, The Times reported.
An audit by the fund last month discovered that its grant, deposited in the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, had disappeared.
The money should have been used to train 50,000 people and buy drugs for a complex national anti-malaria campaign. Instead, only 495 people have been trained.
Aid agency officials said that the loss of the money was a severe setback in the fight against a frequently fatal disease that affects 2.7 million Zimbabweans.
Global Fund officials cited internal correspondence from Zimbabwe's Central Bank in which Gideon Gono, the bank governor, stated that the money was used "for other national priorities".
Gono refused to meet the audit team while it was in the country to explain the shortfall. "It's theft, plain and simple," said a Western diplomatic source.
The global fund has now suspended its current operation in Zimbabwe and will not make the 2009 payment for 320million pound. At its meeting in Delhi on Thursday, the fund's board withdrew the allocation.
"We will not sign any new grants, even if the fund board approves future grants to Zimbabwe, unless that money is fully recovered," said Michel Kazatchkine, its executive director.
The brazenness of the diversion of the money has shocked health workers in Zimbabwe. The country's economic crisis has been accompanied by famine, one of the highest rates of Aids infection in the world and rampant TB and malaria, the paper said.
The country also faces a potential epidemic of cholera as urban townships wallow in rivers of raw sewage and mountains of uncollected garbage amid the collapsing infrastructure.