US terminates funding for Pakistani Sesame Street amid reports of corruption

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(Washington Post) KABUL, Afghanistan — The U.S. has terminated funding for a $20 million project to develop a Pakistani version of Sesame Street, the U.S. Embassy said Tuesday. The decision came as a Pakistani newspaper reported allegations of corruption by the local puppet theater working on the initiative.
The organization in question is the Rafi Peer Theater Workshop, a group in the city of Lahore that jointly developed the show with Sesame Workshop, the creator of the American series.
...The Pakistan Today newspaper reported Tuesday that the cause was “severe” financial irregularities at Rafi Peer, citing unnamed sources close to the project. Officials at Rafi Peer allegedly used the U.S. money to pay off old debts and awarded lucrative contracts to relatives, the sources claimed.
Faizaan Peerzada, the chief operating officer of Rafi Peer and one of several family members who run the organization, denied the corruption allegations. He said the U.S. ended its participation after providing $10 million because of the lack of additional available funds.
“Rafi Peer is proud of its association with the project and of the quality of children’s educational television programming created within Pakistan as a result,” the group said in a statement sent to The Associated Press.
If the corruption allegations prove true, it would be an embarrassment for the multibillion-dollar U.S. aid program in Pakistan, which some analysts have criticized for lacking focus and not achieving results.

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