Let’s Go Urban: Audit reveals up to €450,000 in subsidies went missing

Let’s Go Urban: Audit reveals up to €450,000 in subsidies went missing
Sihame El Kaouakibi. © Belga

As much as €450,000 in subsidies granted by the city of Antwerp to the youth dance project Let’s Go Urban (LGU) found its way into other businesses run by the founder of LGU, Sihame El Kaouakibi, according to an audit carried out by the city.

The audit was demanded after an administrator of LGU raised the issue of mismanagement of funds. It has not yet been released, but a copy was obtained by the VRT.

El Kaouakibi has meanwhile been expelled from the party for which she stood for election to the Flemish parliament, Open VLD.

According to the audit, controls by the city itself on the funds it gave out was “rather superficial,” although it makes no mention of culpability. “The critical view was missing,” it reads.

Book-keeping is described as “sloppy,” and it is almost certain that money intended for LGU – El Kaouakibi’s first project to take Antwerp’s youth off the streets and involve them in a dance project – found its way into some of her private businesses.

In one case, money from a bridging loan to LGU was used to buy an expensive fitted kitchen which was then installed in JJ House, a private initiative of El Kaouakibi and her partner Erika Nguyen.

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The audit also turned up six falsified invoices, for a total of €54,000, intended to cover up the use of subsidy to LGU by private enterprises. Worse, some €260,000 was billed to the city for works supposedly carried out on the Urban Centre – LGU’s new base in Antwerp – but instead carried out on other premises.

That sum could rise as high as €350,000 once some details are ironed out, the audit warns. According to the earlier report from the administrator, as much as €450,000 could be ultimately involved – although some of the funding has already been paid back.

The audit fails to mention one of the major questions raised when the LGU affair first came to light: was it reasonable for so much money to be handed over to a single social project, compared with other social non-profits in the city? An audit by the city itself was never really likely to produce a real mea culpa.

Alan Hope

The Brussels Times

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