Anti-human trafficking NGO SISHA announced the results of its internal audit yesterday, attempting to clear financial misconduct allegations made earlier this year.
Retired police detective and founder of the NGO Steve Morrish came under fire in August after two of the charity’s former employees leaked information regarding alleged mismanagement of hundreds of thousands of earmarked, donated funds.
According to SISHA, audit company KMPG’s investigation found there had “been no theft or misappropriation of funds by Mr Morrish. There were no inappropriate payments to relatives of Mr Morrish”.
Both Morrish and SISHA’s directors have stood by the explanation that funding was legitimately reallocated to pay the CEO after a four-year, self-opted furlough and to cover “operational expenses within SISHA”.
“This whole episode has cut a very deep wound in me,” Morrish said. “The level of betrayal has been very hard to accept and it has made me question my belief in the work I was doing to assist
Morrish resigned from SISHA in August after the former interim executive director of SISHA USA, Sean Looney, made public a letter to the board containing a Skype argument over appropriate uses of funding.
In the transcribed conversation, Morrish demands Looney transfer scholarship funds to cover the July payroll and administrative costs or be fired.
“Mr Morrish is effectively running something akin to a not-for-profit Ponzi scheme,” wrote Looney, who the company promoted to an executive role after just a few months on board as an intern.
“I don't want to be the one that answers to Gina Rinehart when she asks about her missing 650,000 dollars … and the disposition of the programs and the building that money was supposed to fund, for which SISHA still owes almost all services.”
Rinehart, the world’s fourth-wealthiest woman and a major backer of the Cambodian-Australian NGO, resigned from the organisation’s advisory board last summer.
According to SISHA’s announcement yesterday, “Mrs Rinehart has confirmed that she is supportive of the work that SHISA undertakes and reaffirms her continuing support.”
Rinehart’s PR team declined to comment on the investigation’s results.
SISHA’s announcement did acknowledge that a planned women’s crisis centre in Battambang fell through after donated funds had to be used for other financial liabilities.
“We have been in regular dialogue with key donors regarding these matters and they are aware of all transactions,” SISHA CEO Ron Dunne said in an email yesterday.
Morrish dismissed the whole debacle as simply a case of “two former interns” who gained access to restricted information and raised a red flag after they were fired.
“This was not an act of whistle-blowing. This was two people who had been leaking information to bloggers for some time,” he said.
An email address for Looney appeared to no longer be in service yesterday.