By Kieran Guilbert
DAKAR (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A charity set up by Ivorian football star Didier Drogba to help children in West Africa has been cleared of fraud and corruption but may have "misled" donors, Britain's charity watchdog said on Friday.
The Charity Commission launched an investigation in April after Britain's Daily Mail newspaper said less than one percent of 1.7 million pounds ($2 million) donated to the Didier Drogba Foundation was spent on children in Ivory Coast.
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The watchdog found no evidence of fraud or corruption, but said Drogba's charity, set up in Britain in 2009, had failed to separate its activities from those of an Africa-based arm of the organization - La Fondation Didier Drogba - established in 2007.
Funds raised at several events in Britain for a hospital project in the Ivory Coast had not yet been spent on good causes as donors would have expected, the Charity Commission said.
"Donors will have expected their donations to have been used for charitable purposes, not accumulated in a bank account," the report said.
"Donors to the charity may also have been misled about the activities of the charity they were supporting.
"This is because the impression was given that the English charity had financed the activities of the Ivory Coast Foundation, which is clearly not the case."
The watchdog also criticized the charity's governance, with poor record keeping and accounts, and said it had issued the foundation with an "action plan" to make improvements.
Former Chelsea striker Drogba, who now plays for Canadian Major League Soccer club Montreal Impact, said he would seek damages and an apology from The Daily Mail.
"I am pleased that this supports what we always said from the start which is that the claims made by the Daily Mail back in April were entirely false," Drogba said in a statement.
The United Nations goodwill ambassador said earlier this year that all of his charity projects had been funded by his own sponsorship deals, rather than money from British fundraisers.
The Daily Mail, which could not be reached for comment, said in April that the newspaper stood by its story, and that it had not made any allegations of fraud or corruption.
The newspaper's investigation said the charity had spent almost 500,000 pounds since 2009 on fundraising parties, yet had only built one of five healthcare clinics it claimed to be supporting in the West African nation of Ivory Coast.
Almost half of the 20 million population of Ivory Coast live in poverty, and four out of every 10 children of primary school age are not in education, according to data from the World Bank.
(Reporting By Kieran Guilbert, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)