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Liberia investigates US-backed charity after alleged rapes

In this photo taken with a phone on Friday, Oct 12, 2018, students of More Than Me Academy play outside their school in Monrovia, Liberia. Liberia's government on Tuesday announced is investigating a charity founded by a young American woman after allegations that a local staffer raped several girls in its care. (AP Photo/Jonathan Paye-Layleh)

MONROVIA, Liberia (AP) — Liberia’s government on Tuesday announced is investigating a charity founded by a young American woman after allegations that a local staffer raped several girls in its care.

A rape case has been re-opened in order to determine new evidence, the information ministry said, adding that the government is “greatly concerned.”

Liberians have expressed outrage after a report last week by ProPublica described the alleged sexual assaults at a branch of the More Than Me charity in the capital, Monrovia, by former staffer Macintosh Johnson. He died in jail in 2016 while awaiting trial.

The charity was set up to help vulnerable girls mainly from the slum community of West Point.

Liberia’s education minister, Ansu Sonii, told The Associated Press the ministry has obtained all necessary documents for a “meticulous” investigation and asked the public to remain calm. “The interests of the children count first,” he said.

In a statement, a three-member committee of the charity’s board of directors said founder Katie Meyler has taken a leave of absence until a separate, independent audit requested by the organization is complete. Meyler’s work had been praised by Oprah Winfrey, Bill Gates and others.

“We fell short, and we are determined to learn all that we can from this painful chapter,” the statement said on Monday. The board’s chairman has resigned.

The charity’s operations in Liberia will continue, the statement said.

The advocacy group Liberia Feminist Forum said it was “deeply troubled by the horrid report.” It urged the government to immediately revoke the accreditation of More Than Me and place its 19 schools under other management.

The charity for years had been aware of sexual assault allegations. In 2015 Meyler said in a statement that “I want it to be heard loud and clear that in no way do I support Macintosh Johnson or anyone who abuses children in any way. … I want the government of Liberia to bring full force down on this man. He should never be allowed to be around children again.”

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