By Christian Levaux and Robert-Jan Bartunek
BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The former Oxfam director at the heart of a sex abuse scandal said on Thursday he made mistakes when working in Haiti but denied paying for sex with prostitutes or abusing minors.
In his first response to allegations over his conduct, Roland Van Hauwermeiren said in an open letter to a broadcaster in his native Belgium he did not want to cast himself as a victim but feared that Oxfam, other aid workers and those they help would suffer from false accusations.
In the four-page letter, seen by Reuters, he accused an unnamed former employee of being the source of reports that have shaken the global humanitarian community and prompted Britain and the EU to review funding for Oxfam.
“I am not a saint. I am a man of flesh and blood and I have made mistakes (not easy to admit) and I am DEEPLY ASHAMED,” the 68-year-old former soldier wrote in Dutch to broadcaster VTM.
He said he resigned his post running the Oxfam operation after the 2010 Haiti earthquake because he had failed to exercise sufficient control over staff accused of sexual misconduct. But he denied any wrongdoing himself – he never organized “sex parties” or visited brothels in the country.
He acknowledged having had a brief sexual relationship at his Oxfam house with a local woman whom he met as a result of giving her younger sister milk powder and diapers for her child. He denied giving the woman money but said the liaison “fueled rumors” and had left his leadership and Oxfam “compromised”.
Reuters was not able to verify that account.
The letter also dealt with allegations about his conduct in earlier operations: In Liberia in 2004, he acknowledged, he was fired after attending a party where two prostitutes were present although he said he had only “danced and flirted” with them.
He said rumors of aid staff paying for sex in Chad in 2006 were “complete nonsense”.
Complaining of “slander”, he said he believed reports were based on allegations by a man he had fired in Liberia for drunkenness and abusing staff. He did not name this person.
“I feel I have done wrong, but not in the way that some media are reporting,” Van Hauwermeiren wrote, adding:
“These allegations are destroying me and I no longer dare to appear in public or speak to my family and children.”
Earlier, he spoke to reporters from De Standaard newspaper who had called at his apartment near the Belgian coast. He told them his account would make the media “blush with shame”.
“It is not that I deny everything,” he told the paper. “There are things which have been described correctly. But there are many lies and exaggerations. Parties every week? Fancy villas? Women paid with money from the organization?”
Reuters could not reach Van Hauwermeiren for direct comment. A spokeswoman for Oxfam declined to comment on his letter or reported remarks.
Oxfam has neither confirmed nor denied the accounts reported in the media but has said an internal investigation in 2011 confirmed sexual misconduct occurred and it has apologized.
Haitian Justice Minister Heidi Fortune told Reuters on Wednesday he had asked Belgium for help in starting legal action against Van Hauwermeiren, without specifying which laws might have been broken.
The Belgian Justice Ministry said on Thursday it had not received such a request. Belgium’s federal prosecutors said on Thursday they were not aware of any investigation against Van Hauwermeiren. Belgium does not extradite its own citizens to countries outside the European Union.
(Reporting by Robert-Jan Bartunek; Editing by Alastair Macdonald and Andrew Roche)