US halts financing for Pakistani version of 'Sesame Street'

 The US has suspended funding for a USD 20 million project to produce Pakistan's version of the children's television series 'Sesame Street', amidst allegations of fraud against a Lahore-based puppet theatre.

The project was a co-production between US-based Sesame Workshop, and Rafi Peer Puppet Workshop in Lahore.

The decision to terminate the funding came after Pakistani newspapers reported that Rafi Peer was allegedly using the money given by the US to pay off old debts, and rewarded lucrative contracts to sources.

The State Department said it cut off money and began an investigation after receiving credible accusations of fraud and abuse.

"We did receive via that hotline what we believe were credible allegations of fraud and abuse by the Rafi Peer Theater Workshop, which is the theater workshop that manages the Sesame Street program in Pakistan. So we did launch an investigation into the allegations," State Department spokesman Mark Toner told reporters.
"We've also sent the theater workshop a letter that terminates the project agreement."

The initial agreement between United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Rafi Peer Theater Workshop was for USD 20 million, of which USD 6.7 million has been spent as of the last fiscal quarter ending March 31.

"There is an investigation underway looking at these allegations. No one's questioning obviously the value and positive impact of this kind of programming for children, but this is about allegations of corruption," Toner said.

Noting that there is an investigation underway, adding the US will wait for the results of that investigation.

"We deemed that the allegations were serious enough that we wanted to suspend or cut off the program until we were able to complete this investigation," he said.
The show was supposed to run for at least three seasons.

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