As Western governments opened their checkbooks for the White Helmets – a controversial ‘rescue organization’ in Syria – their co-founder used the cash to top up his wage and even finance his wedding, according to a Dutch report.
Days before he plunged from a window in Istanbul to his death last year, White Helmets co-founder and British mercenary James Le Mesurier admitted to defrauding Mayday Rescue, an organization that fundraised for the anti-government rescue group in Syria.
According to documents seen by Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant, Le Mesurier told an accountant sent to audit the charity’s books that he forged receipts for $50,000, pretending that it was sent to finance an evacuation operation in Syria. Instead, the money was paid to Le Mesurier himself. In addition to paying himself a salary of €24,000 ($27,414) per month, Le Mesurier dipped into company cash to finance a lavish wedding in Istanbul in 2018, and to issue loans to his new wife, former diplomat Emma Winberg, the report claims.
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The accountant sent to investigate Mayday found that “tens of thousands of dollars in cash” were withdrawn to pay for the “fairytale wedding.”
Meanwhile, governments across the Western world were lining up to support Mayday, and channel money to the White Helmets. According to a 2018 report by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the organization took in $127 million between 2014 and 2018, with only $19 million of this haul coming from non-state donors. The government of the Netherlands paid out almost $11.5 million in this period, while similar donations flowed in from Germany, Great Britain, Canada, Qatar, and others.
Despite being hailed as fearless rescue workers, the White Helmets have been accused of partnering with Al-Qaeda. Operating exclusively in rebel-held territory, the group’s members have been photographed posing with jihadists and have been accused of staging chemical weapons attacks to draw in Western forces against Syrian President Bashar Assad.
Le Mesurier’s death was deemed a suicide by Turkish authorities. Shortly afterwards, a number of countries that had donated to Mayday demanded an accountant have another look over the organization’s books.