Dutch accountant uncovers fraud behind Syria rescue organization White Helmets: report
A Dutch accountant discovered that the leaders of Mayday Rescue, the Dutch foundation behind the White Helmets rescue organization in Syria, used money intended for a rescue operation for their own bonuses instead. James Le Mesurier, the founder of the White Helmets, died in an apparent suicide days after this discovery, the Volkskrant reports based on its own research.
The White Helmets is the organization of Syrian locals who rescued victims from the rubble after bombings - recognized by the white helmets they wore. The organization was funded by donations from various European governments, Canada and Qatar. The finances ran through Mayday Rescue, a Dutch foundation that also had offices in Istanbul.
According to the newspaper, Le Mesurier received 50 thousand dollars in cash for Operation Flying Carpet in on 17 July 2018. Four days later, around 100 White Helmets and their family members were smuggled out of Syria when Syrian president Bashar al-Assad reconquered parts of southern Syria. As the White Helmets rescued people from bombings by the Assad regime, it was feared that they would be in danger of captivity, torture and death in areas he controlled.
But fewer White Helmets could be rescued than hoped, the Volkskrant wrote, because the largest part of the 50 thousand dollars Le Mesurier took from the Mayday safe in Istanbul was not used for the rescue. And after that the money disappeared.
In the spring of 2019, a British accountant asked for an explanation and received receipts from Le Mesurier showing that after the evacuation from Jordan, the money was handed over to another manager, who signed for it. After that Mayday established an Emergency Operation Center in Istanbul, in case more rescue workers had to be rescued, and the money is there in a safe. The British accountant accepted this, as there were receipts and all.
But when the Dutch accountant went to check in November 2019, he found that the money was missing and the receipts were fake. An involved employee told him that Le Mesurier asked that he and a colleague sign backdated receipts. The accountant met with Le Mesurier to ask him about it, and he acknowledged fraud, according to the Volkskrant. The money went into "remuneration benefits" - money he and fellow directors Emma Winberg (also his wife) and Rupert Davis paid out every month on top of their salaries. The accountant confirmed that the 50 thousand dollars went into the books as a personal bonus for Le Mesurier and advised the man to get a forensic accountant look at the books to investigate the risk of self-enrichment.
The next day, November 8, Le Mesurier wrote an email to the donor countries, admitting that the 50 thousand dollars disappeared as a result of "fraud", but adding that there was never any malicious intent. "I take full and sole responsibility for that," he wrote, according to the newspaper. He discussed his fears for a second investigation by a forensic accountant, that this may reveal "errors and internal failures" that could play into the hands of "Russia and the pro-Assad trolls." He left the choice of how to proceed up to the donor countries, adding that he is willing to step down from Mayday if they require it and pay back any wrong expenses.
On Monday, November 11, Le Mesurier was found dead. He died in a fall from his and Winberg's apartment above the Mayday offices in Istanbul. The Turkish police spoke to his widow and concluded that he most likely took his own life.