Madonna’s African school dream left in ruins as £2.4m is frittered on luxuries

David Gardner – Daily Mail 26, 2011

Madonna’s dream of building a school for girls in poverty-stricken Malawi has collapsed after £2.4million was frittered away without a brick being laid.

Funds raised by the singer from celebrity friends such as Tom Cruise and Gwyneth Paltrow were squandered on luxuries including golf course membership, and a car and driver for the school’s director, according to details of an audit revealed yesterday.

Madonna also plunged her own money into the school project which was going to cost £10million but which has now been officially abandoned because of the financial scandal.

The charity Raising Malawi, co-founded by Madonna and once run by the boyfriend of her former personal trainer, was behind the plan to build the academy.

But its board of directors has been ousted and replaced by a caretaker board which includes the singer and her manager, according to the New York Times.

Madonna was not implicated in the financial scandal and was not on the original board.

The newspaper claimed yesterday that auditors called in to examine the charity’s finances found that the budget overran by hundreds of thousands of pounds because of ‘outlandish expenditures’ that also included design fees to architects, salaries, cars, office space and free staff housing – all for a school that was never built.

In one case, two cars were bought for employees that hadn’t even been hired. Some of the £2.4million still hasn’t been accounted for, said the audit.

The academy for 400 girls was supposed to be the jewel in the crown of the charitable foundation’s work in Malawi.

Madonna, 52, who adopted a daughter, Mercy, from Malawi last year and a son, David, in 2008, said she was proud of other work the charity has carried out in the African country, but admitted being disappointed at the school setback.

‘I’m frustrated that our education work has not moved forward in a faster way,’ she told the newspaper. She added that she was still determined to use the charity to continue helping to feed, educate and provide medical care in the country where about 500,000 children have lost a parent to Aids.

Madonna co-founded Raising Malawi in 2006 with the Los Angeles-based Kabbalah Centre International, a Jewish mystical movement with which she has been associated for years.

She was a guest of honour at a fund-raiser hosted by designer Gucci in New York in 2008 that was also attended by Miss Paltrow and Cruise.

The decision to ‘discontinue’ the school plans was confirmed by Michael Berg, co-founder of Raising Malawi and co-director of the Los Angeles Kabbalah Centre, in a letter to members who had donated to the project. Madonna has given nearly £7million to the charity and has been a regular visitor to Malawi, attending two ceremonies at the planned site for the school in Lilongwe.

The first sign the ambitious project was in jeopardy came when Raising Malawi’s executive director, Philippe van den Bossche, the boyfriend of Madonna’s former trainer, Tracy Anderson, left last October after criticism over his management abilities.

Trevor Neilson of the Global Philanthropy Group, which advises charities, was called in by Madonna the following month. Despite millions being spent, ‘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 team in the United States,’ he said, according to the New York Times.

‘We have not accounted for all the funds that were used,’ he added.

A report by the Global Philanthropy Group said Mr van den Bossche’s ‘level of mismanagement and lack of oversight was extreme in both aspects of the project’.

It was also highly critical of Anjimile Oponyo, who was chosen last year to head the Raising Malawi Academy for Girls. ‘Her weak management skills are a major contributor to the current financial and programmatic chaos,’ the report added.

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