On August 10th the University of Ottawa released a news statement addressing the alleged fraud allegations levelled against the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO). The university requested that “a forensic audit be immediately conducted to investigate these allegations.” While SFUO is an independent organization, governing its own affairs, it is responsible with administering services to the student population.
A report released by UOttawa’s independent student paper “The Fulcrum” claims that student funds were mismanaged and diverted towards the personal use of SFUO executives. The report, which was filed by outgoing president Hadi Wess, names SFUO president Rizki Rachiq, executive director Vanessa Dorimain, and vice-president of operations Axel Gaga as the perpetrators of the fraud. The information gathered by the report was passed on to the Ottawa Police Service, classified under criminal scam and identity theft.
Hadi Wess was alerted by the affair when the union’s bank Caisse Desjardins flagged unusual activity within the account. Wess along with the union’s finance director Nicole Labossiere immediately began looking into the affair and uncovered several fraudulent activities conducted by the implicated SFUO executives.
Union President Blows Student Funds on Audi, Salon and Louis Vuitton
President Rizki Rachiq allegedly received approximately $20 000 in cheques which were funnelled through the fabricated “Testing Restaurants UOttawa” club. In a 2016 letter, the club was “officially recognized” by the president of finance of the year, Camelia Touzany and had its own operating bank account with Desjardins bank. However, Touzany claims that the signature and content of the letter were a forgery and that she was not involved in its certification.
Of the $20 000 stolen from student coffers, President Rizki spent the money lavishly on Loui Vuitton shoes, a pair of $950 glasses, Audi maintenance, salon visits and several ATM withdrawals. In a 2016 video by The Fulcrum, titled “Fulcrum Campus Fashion – uOttawa style”, Rizki appears in an interview (far right) saying “I like expensive brands, Louis Vuitton and stuff”.
Catering and Office Clean Ups Used as Fronts for Illegitimate Spending
Executive director Vanessa Dorimain is also implicated in the fraud, as she vouched for the expenditure as legitimate uses of student funds. Wess’ report states that Vanessa also used the pretense of catering and office cleaning expenditures to misuse funds. A $3,000 charge to her mother’s catering company Savoury Catering, was issued for a Leader Action breakfast event. The invoice listed the following items to have been provided at the event: crepes, halal sausages, spinach omelettes, tomatoe [sic] soup, salmon slices, scrambled eggs and mixed fruits. But a photo of the event only shows a meager table with fruit juice and dip.
On April 25th, Dorimain also requested a cheque of $860 to be approved by outgoing president Wess totaling $860. Dorimain issued the cheque to her friend and claimed it was to be used for office cleaning services. However Wess claims that the university already has janitors doing the services and that employees are expected to keep the space clean themselves. While Wess never approved the request the funding was given the go ahead by Rizki, who was the vice-president at the time.
Two Years Earlier Student Union Faced with Crippling Debt
This isn’t the first time that SFUO is plagued with financial troubles. In 2016, an Ottawa Citizen article states the union as running a half a million dollar deficit in operations. A deficit which inevitably would lead up to higher student fees and costs. Spending at the university has been plagued with “causes that do not reflect the entire student population.” In November of 2015, a free Yoga class was cancelled by the student union at the university Centre for Students with Disabilities over claims of “cultural appropriation”.
Alumni Calls for More Oversight
In a letter to the editor, released by The Fulcrum, a former alumni called for increased oversight, participation in student government and union accountability.
The letter asks student leaders to “Destroy the rotting foundation that exists in the student politics system and rebuild out of those ashes with partnerships and transparency/accountability that is done in partnership with the administration of the university.”