Financing the white helmets in Syria – Germany demands money back
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Germany supports the white helmets in Syria with almost 20 million euros. The Federal Foreign Office is now demanding a partial amount from a foundation in the Netherlands. There are serious accusations against the organization.
I.A foundation is heavily criticized in the Netherlands, which has directed millions of euros in aid to Syrian white helmets for European governments. According to the Federal Foreign Office, it claimed interest of EUR 49,596.92 from the Dutch NGO “Stichting Mayday Rescue”.
The amount was demanded due to the “non-immediate use of funds”, the Federal Foreign Office announced at the request of the German Press Agency. Most recently, the newspaper “de Volkskrant” reported on financial irregularities at the Dutch foundation.
Accordingly, the then head of the foundation and co-founder of the white helmets, James Le Mesurier, informed the donor countries in November 2019 in an email about irregularities. At that time, it was about $ 50,000 that had disappeared. According to the media report, Le Mesurier spoke in the email of “fraud”, which, however, was not done intentionally.
A few days after the email, Le Mesurier was found dead in Istanbul. According to the knowledge of the Turkish public prosecutor, he fell from a great height. The investigation was later stopped because no evidence of external influences could be found.
Germany supported with 19.62 million euros
The white helmets are known for their use in the Syrian civil war because they are often among the first helpers after the bombing. In the past eight years, they saved more than 115,000 people, according to US figures. In 2016 the organization was awarded the Alternative Nobel Prize. Video recordings by the organization repeatedly documented attacks and bombings by the Syrian and Russian military in residential areas. The governments of Syria and Allied Russia accuse the White Helmets of being close to Islamists.
The Dutch NGO had organized the financing of white helmets in Syria for numerous donor countries, including Germany, Great Britain, Qatar and other EU countries. The Federal Foreign Office said it supported the work of the white helmets through Mayday Rescue between 2016 and 2019 with 19.62 million euros.
After an external financial audit, the Federal Foreign Office sees no evidence of misuse of funds and assumes that the funds have benefited from the promotion of white helmets. A financial report by the audit firm Grant Thornton concluded at the end of May this year that there was “no evidence of the embezzlement of funds”.
“Significant gaps” in the organization
However, there are “significant gaps” in Mayday’s organization and internal control, extracts from the report said that Mayday Rescue itself published on the Internet. Basic financial procedures were not followed. Cash transactions are not fully listed in the books and accounts.
Financial irregularities are also mentioned in a court case that the Dutch NGO brought against a former director. It was undisputedly stated that “2018.27 percent of the money donated and in 2019 even 33 or 34 percent of the money was not made available for the specified goals, but was spent on costs,” said the ruling published in early July. In addition, it is quoted from internal e-mail traffic, which involved high salaries, parties and financial allowances for the directors.
From the Federal Foreign Office in Berlin, it was said that the exams for the project phases of 2018 and 2019 were currently running. There is currently no financial support from the Federal Foreign Office for the white helmets through Mayday Rescue. In addition, the Federal Foreign Office pointed out that the allegations only refer to the Dutch NGO. The work of the white helmets and their important commitment to the Syrian civilian population should be explicitly separated from this.
The work of the white helmets continues unabated, the chairman of the organization, Raed Salah, told the German Press Agency. Even though Mayday Rescue was one of the main donors, there are currently no financial problems.