Haitian-born singer Wyclef Jean has dismissed accusations of corruption in his Yele Haiti Foundation, calling them “baseless attacks”. The former Fugee refuted allegations that he and his partners have profited from the organisation’s previous development work. After the Haiti earthquake, Yele Haiti has become one of the most important aid groups, collecting around $2m (£1.23m) through SMS fundraising.
“I have been committed to helping the people of Haiti throughout my life, and that commitment will continue until the day I die,” Jean wrote on his website, with an accompanying video. “I denounce any allegation that I have ever profited personally through my work with Yele Haiti. These baseless attacks are simply not true.”
Concerns over the Yele Haiti Foundation began with a report by the Smoking Gun on Thursday, claming that over the last four years Jean and his partner have collected at least $410,000 ($252,000) from the organisation, paid out for rent, production services and a performance at a 2006 benefit concert. Until two months ago, Yele Haiti was allegedly known as the Wyclef Jean Foundation.
“It seems clear that a significant amount of the monies that this charity raises go for costs other than providing benefits to Haitians in need,” Dean Zerbe, a former tax counsel to the US senate finance committee, which oversees charities, told the Washington Post. In 2006, most of Yele Haiti’s reported $1m revenue came from Angelina Jolie, who donated proceeds from a People magazine photoshoot. More than a third of this money went to parties linked to Jean and other board-members, according to the Post.
“I never, or would ever, take money for my personal pocket when it comes to Yele,” Jean insisted, claiming to have donated at least $1m of his own money to the charity. To date, the group has provided scholarships, funded a Haitian football team, and employed women to cook at schools. After a 2008 storm, it helped community networks distribute food to 6,000 families, according to foundation president Hugh Locke, using local expertise instead of aid workers. Next week, they plan to use a FedEx aeroplane to airlift medical supplies, water and Clif Bars from Miami to Port-au-Prince.
While Yele Haiti has benefited from several gala fundraisers, including a forthcoming telethon co-hosted by Jean and George Clooney, most of their money was collected in an SMS campaign. Americans donated $5 to the foundation by texting the word “Yele” to a designated number. “I think people should be comfortable that any money given to Yele Haiti is going 100% to emergency relief,” Locke said.
But critics point to incidents like the 2006 payment of $250,000 (£154,000) to Telemax, a for-profit TV station and production company in which Jean and Jerry Duplessis, both Yele directors, had a controlling interest. The charity also paid $31,000 (£19,000) in rent to Platinum Sound, a Manhattan recording studio owned by Jean and Duplessis, and $100,000 (£61,500) for Jean’s performance at a Yele benefit in Monaco.
A Yele public relations spokesman said that the Telemax money was used for “everything from public-service announcements to educational programming”, and as at Platinum Sound, it offered the organisation “a significant discount”. As for the Monaco concert, Locke said the $100,000 included all production expenses, including back-up musicians.
Another Smoking Gun report has found that the Yele Haiti Foundation had its corporate status dissolved on four occasions over the last five years. The charity was repeatedly sanctioned by the Florida Division of Corporations for failing to provide reports of its corporate structure. “The fact that these attacks come as we are mobilised to meet the greatest human tragedy in the history of Haiti only serves to perplex me,” Jean complained. “I live in [Haiti], I’m Haitian. This is where I come from.”