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Yolanda Lopez, Voice of America director, resigns amid congressional corruption probe at broadcaster

The acting director of the troubled Voice of America resigned abruptly this week amid a congressional investigation into corruption allegations at the official U.S. global broadcaster.

Yolanda Lopez, acting VOA director since January 2021, announced her resignation in an email to VOA employees Sept. 18.

The email stated that Ms. Lopez would be leaving VOA at the end of September. No reason was given for the abrupt departure.

Bridget Ann Serchak, a VOA spokeswoman, said Ms. Lopez is leaving for a position outside the U.S. government. John Lippman, acting VOA programming director, will assume the acting director post after Ms. Lopez departs Sept. 29. Ms. Serchak declined to comment further.

A person familiar with the resignation said Ms. Lopez is expected to take a position with the Inter-American Development Bank.

The resignation comes as VOA faces a House investigation regarding corruption allegations.

The radio also has been criticized for consistently producing news that lacks relevance to its mission and emphasizing entertainment in global broadcasts. VOA broadcasting also is said by critics to play down critical threats posed by China, Russia and Iran.

Amanda Bennett, director of the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM), VOA’s parent organization, praised Ms. Lopez in an email message and said she was “saddened” by the resignation.

The House Foreign Affairs Committee announced in July it has begun an investigation into corruption at the USAGM, the umbrella agency that oversees U.S. government media outlets.

Ms. Lopez is scheduled to be interviewed by committee investigators next week, according to a congressional source.

The committee recently interviewed two VOA employees, Michelle Stewart and David Kotz, regarding the circumstances regarding the rehiring at VOA of Setareh Derakhshesh Sieg, a senior Persian language official, according to a person familiar with the House probe. Ms. Sieg was fired during the Trump administration over allegations she misused funds and falsified her resume. She was rehired at VOA after President Biden took office.

The Washington Times first disclosed the dismissal and rehiring in February 2021.

Critics within VOA said Ms. Sieg appeared sympathetic to Iran’s theocratic government and skewed VOA reports in favor of the regime, according to current and former VOA and USAGM officials.

Mr. Lippman had been scheduled to be interviewed by the House committee this week as part of its corruption investigation.

Mr. Lippman, Ms. Steward and Mr. Katz all were linked to the rehiring of Ms. Sieg.

The rehiring set in motion the House investigation. A committee spokeswoman did not respond to a request for comment.

Committee Chairman Michael McCaul said in July that the panel had uncovered “alarming evidence of misconduct and negligence at the senior-most levels” of the USAGM.

The misconduct involved employees and high-ranking officials took no action regarding the behavior, the Texas Republican stated.

Last year, VOA, the primary U.S. government-funded broadcaster, canceled two Chinese-language programs focused on tensions between China and Taiwan, in what critics said was an attempt to play down the issue.

Republicans accused the USAGM of stonewalling the investigation.

“Congress needs answers about what is being done to address continued accusations of mismanagement, which has now spanned multiple administrations,” Mr. McCaul stated in a 2021 letter to Kelu Chao, then-acting chief executive officer at USAGM and currently deputy CEO.

Ms. Lopez did not return an email request for comment. Ms. Bennett, the USAGM chief, also did not respond to an email request for comment. The USAGM press office also did not respond.

Mr. Lippman, the new acting VOA director, said in an email to employees that he is honored to follow Ms. Lopez in the position.

“My approach as acting director will be similar to Yolanda’s, focusing on VOA’s mission, on serving our audiences around the world, on protecting our journalists and on getting you the tools you need to succeed,” he stated.

Mr. Bennet stated in her email that Ms. Lopez guided VOA through the COVID-19  pandemic, directed the evacuation of VOA employees from Afghanistan, and backed coverage of the Russia invasion during her 2 1/2 years at VOA.

“She ensured our Persian colleagues were positioned to provide leading coverage of the protests in Iran,” Ms. Bennett stated. “She established close relationships with the most important affiliate group in Latin America, initiated expansion of VOA in Seoul, and connected our global audience with overarching themes like climate change and China’s influence around the world.”

Dan Robinson, a former VOA correspondent and outspoken critic of both VOA and USAGM, said the resignation is more than a routine leadership change.

“The head of the Voice of America since 2021 abruptly announces her departure as Republican House members press a two-year-long investigation into alleged corrupt actions at VOA and USAGM, including depositions of key VOA officials,” Mr. Robinson said.

“USAGM-VOA has been one of the most scandal-plagued and mismanaged places in the federal government and has been able to avoid closer and more detailed scrutiny for years,” he said.

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