Madonna axes Kabbalah chief from Malawi... and then calls in PR 'masters of disasters'

The Daily Mail, UK/April 3, 2011

By Lara Gould

Madonna has removed the board of directors of her Raising Malawi charity amid accusations it wasted £2.4million on a project to build a school that never got off the ground.

The 52-year-old singer has herself now taken up the reins of the charity, which aims to help orphans and children with AIDS in the African state.

Among the board members axed is Kabbalah co-director Michael Berg.

Madonna took the decision after the charity's £9 million flagship project - the Raising Malawi Girls' Academy - was abandoned last week following an audit which discovered £2.4million had been frittered away by staff on golf memberships and chauffeur-driven cars.

And she has called in PR gurus Fabiani and Lehane - dubbed 'The Masters of Disasters' - to help her rebuild the charity's image.

Madonna announced plans for the 500-pupil girls' school in 2009 and flew into the country to lay the first brick. But two years on there is no further progress, and when The Mail on Sunday visited the site earlier this year it was still scrubland.

A spokesman for the singer confirmed a new interim board had been appointed which, it is understood, will include her manager Guy Oseary. Three of the four previous board members - Berg, John Larkin and Rachel Almog - had links to Kabbalah, the Jewish faith followed by Madonna.

The fourth board member, Philippe Van Den Bossche, was the executive director of Raising Malawi but left the charity last October. There is no suggestion of any wrongdoing from any board members.

The Mail on Sunday has learned that Madonna has also hired a team of advisers after being hit by a string of lawsuits from former Raising Malawi employees and criticism over the charity's handling of the Girls' Academy project.

She drafted in Mark Fabiani and Chris Lehane, who earned their 'Masters of Disasters' sobriquet for their damage-control PR work when they worked for Bill Clinton in the White House.

They are reported to charge fees of £18,000 a month. In an email, Fabiani declined to comment on questions from The Mail on Sunday.

On March 23 - two days before the highly critical Raising Malawi audit was published - US law firm Bingham McCutchen announced they had also been hired by the singer.The firm said they had been appointed to handle 'corporate, tax, intellectual property and employment work - as well as provide day-to-day legal advice regarding the nonprofit's operations'.

A statement on the firm's website said: 'Madonna decided to change [Raising Malawi's] focus and direction in order to increase its effectiveness.'

It is understood an internal investigation is still ongoing to establish exactly what happened with the Girls' Academy project and how such large sums of money were spent without being accounted for.

The academy was planned to have housed 30 classrooms, 12 dormitories and 18 staff houses - including one for the head of the school, Anjimile Oponyo.

A source close to the singer said: 'Madonna was misled by a series of people, and she was the first to call for an investigation as to how the school funds had been used by the Raising Malawi Academy for Girls.

'She is the single largest private donor to the country of Malawi, and the vast majority of her programmes have been an enormous success.'

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