British taxpayers’ money has been directed to jihadist groups linked to al-Qaeda as part of a shady foreign aid programme in Syria.
The scheme was suspended after a probe found evidence that millions of pounds earmarked for the unarmed Free Syrian Police (FSP) could have been diverted to militants with links to the al-Nusra Front, The Times reports.
The claims are to be made in an investigation by BBC Panorama, which will broadcast tonight under the title ‘Jihadis You Pay For’.
The Foreign Office confirmed on Sunday night that it had suspended access to the so-called justice and community security scheme (Ajacs), which has been running since late 2014, amid concerns about its management by Adam Smith International (ASI), a British contractor.
Britain is one of the main contributors to the £20 million Ajacs fund, handing over around £12 million.
However, The Times claims there is a wider budget of more than £1 billion a year, so secretive that senior politicians responsible for scrutinizing it do not even know what countries it is being spent in.
The money intended for the FSP was supposed to help restore law and order in the war-torn country and should have been spent on things like handcuffs, batons, crowbars, tear gas, and even water coolers and filing cabinets.
However, ASI was paying some Western staff working from Turkey as much as £850 a day, with money earmarked for 100 Canon digital cameras at £370 each, 200 Samsung smartphones, 100 Sony video cameras, and 200 video projectors, according to separately leaked documents.
The Panorama episode will include claims FSP officers were forced to hand funds to extremists, and that the al-Nusra Front selected officers in two stations. The investigation also claims that ASI used bags of cash to pay the FSP, and that dead and fictitious people were on their payroll.
ASI has insisted that all of the BBC’s allegations are either “untrue or entirely misleading”. The Foreign Office says it takes the allegations “extremely seriously” and is investigating.
All the money comes from Britain’s huge £13 billion foreign aid budget, which is administered by the Department for International Development (DfID) and other departments, including the Foreign Office.