U.S. officials said they'll no longer fund a $20 million initiative in Pakistan to develop a local version of the popular American television series Sesame Street.
The U.S. Embassy in Islamabad wouldn't elaborate on the decision. But Tuesday's announcement to cancel the funding came after allegations of corruption against the local puppet theater working on the project in partnership with Sesame Workshop — the American group behind the hit series.
The Pakistan Today newspaper quoted unnamed sources as saying puppet theater Rafi Peer group was involved in 'severe' financial irregularities. The sources claimed the U.S. funding was allegedly used to pay off debts and award lucrative contracts to relatives.
Rafi Peer CEO Faizaan Peerzada denied the allegations. He said the partnership was ending because the United States no longer had funding available after raising the initial $10 million.
He said his group would be taking on the project alone and would begin shooting the second season later this month.
An AFP report said authorities in Washington received complaints through an anti-fraud hotline of 'what we believe were credible allegations of fraud and abuse by the Rafi Peer Theater Workshop,' according to Mark Toner, a State Department spokesman.
The $20 million funding grant had been arranged through the U.S. Agency for International Development. The State Department's Toner said $6.7 million had already been spent, according to AFP.
Sesame Street -- the longest running children's television program in the United States -- was first broadcast in 1969. A non-profit group first called the Children's Television Workshop, and now called Sesame Workshop, produces the show. Money for developing the program comes from private foundations, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and the U.S. government.
Based on reports from VOA and others