New information has emerged about how US pop queen Madonna’s handlers covered-up how the Kabbalah International Center used poor Malawian children as a fundraising tool, mismanaged their funds and shifted blame on the managers of the failed school project.
Phillippe Van Den Bossche was Executive Director of Raising Malawi, Madonna’s charity and Dr Anjimile Oponyo was the head of the planned Academy for Girls. They both were accused of malfeasance in a report done by Trevor Neilson’s Global Philanthropy Group
But as this reporter find out, it was all lies perpetrated by Neilson’s report to shift blame to helpless Malawians and distance Madonna and the Kabbalah Centre from the Malawi blow-up.
Neilson is a powerful PR consultant who has worked with political leaders like President Bill Clinton and billionaires namely; Bill Gates, Sir Richard Branson among others. He has extensive experience in addressing global and domestic challenges ranging from disease to poverty in Africa.
This is the reason Madonna hired him to use his enormous experience and do a Public Relations facelift after she failed to build the $15 million girls’ academy she had promised Malawian girls, who want better free schools that successive corrupt governments have failed to offer.
Follow the money
Records show that only $850,000 of the $3.8 million Neilson claims was spent on the academy, was paid out in Malawi. The lion’s share — almost $3 million—was spent by the Kabbalah Centre’s office in Los Angeles under Michael Berg, the Co-founder of Raising Malawi.
Morgan Tembo, one of the members of the local advisory board for the school, said in an interview that from the $850,000 said to have been spent specifically on the school, his records show a mere $8,659 to have been released for the project
“According to our records only $8,659 was sent to us three months [july] after the bricklaying ceremony and clearly there was no apparent plan to cover the costs of operating the school,” said Tembo, one of Malawi renowned accountants and finance managers.
According to records this reporter reviewed, the ceremony [bricklaying] in 2009, cost $106,250.
Records at the IRS, the US tax collectors, show that in 2008 Raising Malawi fillings totalled a million dollars [$1,042,623] in “unspecified operating and construction costs”— of the school. Neilson could not explain the expenditures when Newsweek quizzed him in 2011.
This is not surprising because Madonna allowed Raising Malawi to be headquartered at the Kabbalah Center in Los Angeles giving the centre’s director (Philip Berg) more say and control of funds raised in the name of the Malawi school project and country’s poor orphans.
The money for the school project and the one million orphans was raised through high profile fundraisers and is still being raised on the Raising Malawi website and yet the local board was not allowed absolutely no say in how the money was spent. The Kabbalah centre, at the very least, should have been open and transparent and honest in their dealings.
Neilson admitted to Newsweek that the Kabbalah Center kept its Malawi account open, receiving and spending money after Raising Malawi registered separately with the IRS.
A Neilson aide says the Center “took in more revenue than was spent” on Malawi projects in 2006 and 2007 and that “those ‘profits’ remained” on its books, designated for Malawi use. Neilson could not say how much in profit the center kept for the past five years but says it is being used to settle the debt Raising Malawi owes the Kabbalah center.
How did Raising Malawi come to owe the Kabbalah center when it was in custody of millions in Raising Malawi funding since 2006. Why didn’t it transfer the funds when Raising Malawi ran deficits in 2009 and 2010?
And what about 2008, when the foundation had its best fundraising year, finishing with a half-million-dollar surplus, yet the center listed a $1.8 million liability from Raising Malawi on its IRS filings? How could there be a liability if it was the center that in fact owed Raising Malawi the millions it had collected over the prior two years?
When Newsweek asked the center’s tax attorney Shane Hamilton how the Kabbalah Centre and Raising Malawi divided the money that was raised for Malawi, he replied: “I don’t know if they have a structure.”
Soon after these questions were raised about Raising Malawi and the Kabbalah Centre, Neilson moved to separate the two, replacing the Raising Malawi board of directors with a new board consisting of Madonna, her manager Guy Oseary, and her accountant Richard Feldstein. The next move was to blame others for Madonna’s failures in Malawi.
Neilson successfully diverted attention from Madonna and the center pinning much of the blame on Raising Malawi academy director Anjimile Oponyo, the sister of Malawi’s first female president and Philipe Van Den Bossche.
“Despite $3.8m having been spent by the previous management team, the project has not broken ground, there was no title to the land and there was, overall, a startling lack of accountability on the part of the management team in Malawi… and the management,” he was quoted as saying. “We have yet to determine exactly what happened to all of that $3.8m. We have not accounted for all the funds that were used.”
The report accused Oponyo of leading a freewheeling lifestyle which included a high salary, a car, housing, and a golf-club membership when all these were included in her contract by Madonna aides.
But the actual expenditures that Neilson tried to pin Oponyo on looked puny and insignificant by comparison to what the Kabbalah Center spent to finance its trips to Malawi for the bricklaying ceremony, pay for Madonna’s lodging for the whole year at the exclusive Kumbali Lodge in Lilongwe.
In Malawi golf membership costs $500 a year compared to the high flying golf clubs in the USA and other parts of the world. The car that was bought for Oponyo was a Japanese reconditioned 1996 Toyota, too old for even for a poor country like Malawi where executives drive expensive SUVs and other brand new posh cars.
One of the Raising Malawi board members told this reporter tha Oponyo’s annual salary, of $96,000, was actually less than what she was paid from her previous positions at the World Bank and the United Nations.
Oponyo, who was interviewed by Madonna herself, agreed to move to her home country with four of her six children. (If she had been posted in Malawi by the U.S. State Department, she would have received cost-of-living and hardship allowances, and educational and living-quarters benefits that would have added $150,000 to her salary.)
When contacted for interview, Oponyo declined to comment because of the confidentiality agreement she signed with Madonna.
To complete the picture in the cover up, Neilson’s had to target Philippe Van Den Bossche, the executive director of Raising Malawi. Van Den Bossche was the boyfriend of Madonna’s ex-trainer.
He got the job through the Kabbalah center, where he was the development director before Madonna hired him to run her charitable activities in Malawi.
“Philippe’s level of mismanagement and lack of oversight was extreme in both aspects of the project and the lack of success of the players on the ground is in large part a result of his inability to effectively manage project plans, people and finances,” Neilson’s report reads in part.
Van Den Bossche is also gagged and couldn’t comment because of the confidentiality agreement he signed with the pop star.
The other lie
Unrelenting, Neilson still pushes two explanations for why the Raising Malawi school was not built: that there weren’t enough girls living near the school to attend it and that the Malawi government never transferred the title deed for the 117 acres plot that was grabbed from the families of Chinkhota Village, 15 kilometres outside Lilongwe — Malawi’s capital city.
On the first explanation, Madonna had said that she was building the elite academy to accommodate about 500 underprivileged girls from the country’s 28 districts. So clearly, Neilson’s explanation cannot justify the shutting down of the project.
The second explanation that the Malawi government didn’t transfer the title for the land is just another sad lie. There is a lease signed on January 4 by the land registrar in Malawi stating that the Raising Malawi academy “is now registered as the proprietor of the leasehold interest” in that property.
Neilson says Raising Malawi will now focus on financing “proven interventions.” If Madonna is willing to throw her money and prodigious fundraising talents behind the effective programs that already exist, that would be the best news possible for Malawi.
What Madonna has done since abandoning the academy has been to build school blocks in partnership with BuildOn, in already established rural primary schools. This is not surprising because it is a much cheaper option since most of the money was mismanaged by Kabbalah Center.
“My original vision is now on a much bigger scale,” Madonna said in a statement after the school’s collapse. “I want to reach thousands, not hundreds, of girls. I want to do more and I want to do it better,” she said in a statement justifying why she closed the school.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :