Secretive Empire in Ireland

Irish-located charity was investigated in Britain

Irish Times/October 30, 1998
By Alison O'Connor and Catherine Cleary

Behind the modest face of a newly-arrived charity lies a secretive empire about which there have been many questions.

The small terraced house in south Dublin is an unlikely headquarters for a branch of a multimillion pound charity organisation. The only unusual sign in the Crumlin house is a small notice in the downstairs window with the logo of an organisation called Humana People to People.

Around 100 large clothes collection bins have appeared in Dublin and surrounding counties marked "Clothes in aid of Third World development". Door-to-door clothes collections are planned, and established charities have been asked to buy the clothes until the organisation can open its own shops.

Humana People to People registered as a company here six months ago. But it is no ordinary Third World agency. Trading as Development Aid People to People (DAPP) and UFF in Scandinavian countries, Humana is closely linked to Tvind, a Danish organisation described as a cult. It was founded as an educational organisation in the 1970s. Its worldwide empire has been described by those who have followed its activities as a non-religious sect, focused on profit.

While the Irish base may be low-key, the organisation's total holdings were valued in 1987 at around £31m. Its holdings have included offshore companies, plantations in the Caribbean and a shipping company in the Cayman Islands.

An investigation by the Guardian newspaper in the early 1990s into Humana's British operation - which included hundreds of collection bins, a number of shops and two schools - revealed that less than 10 per cent of the organisation's income had been donated to charitable projects in the years between 1989 and 1992. In the past the organisation cited high set-up costs as a reason why more money was not used for charitable purposes.

This led to a four-year investigation by the Charity Commission, the British charity watchdog set up in 1993. Commission investigators travelled to Zambia in 1996 to examine Humana projects there and the commission appointed a receiver to Humana Ltd UK around this time.

A spokesman at the organisation's international headquarters in Zimbabwe, Mr Snowre Westguard, said the Charity Commission had given Humana a report on its investigation. It had not found anything and had "lifted the receivership and decided, with Humana, some steps for the future," he said.

Mr Westguard denied that Humana had high administration costs. "I think our members have very low administration costs compared to very many other organisations. We know that as an organisation you have to have transparency. We encourage all our members to be transparent and to use well-known auditors so that the misunderstandings can be eliminated."

Mr Westguard said he was working in Zambia during the commission's investigation. "One of the allegations was that money was not being used in the project there. But that was not true."

On the question of the Irish operation's accountability, Ms van de Stadt said: "We are registered at the Revenue Commissioners. They will of course check on us. We will send yearly accounts and all our statements. We have a firm of accountants. That is what we will do here. If anyone has questions they can come and ask."

Humana was registered in Ireland with the Companies Office in April. Ms van de Stadt, (26), is the only resident director, with the two Danish directors, Helle Herdis Broner Lund and Ms Birgit Soe (nee Pedersen), of the same west London address, listed as non-resident directors. Ms van de Stadt said she arrived here in February and, after setting up the company, spent her time finding locations for collection bins. "Our aim is to have both shops and collections and to send the clothes to Africa." The clothes collected so far are being stored in a warehouse, she said.

The charity employs one other woman, she said, a former volunteer worker who worked in Angola. Ms van de Stadt, who joined the organisation from school and worked in Mozambique, asserted that the only connection between Tvind and Humana was that aid volunteers are trained at Tvind-run schools before going overseas.

She said funds from the Irish operation would be used to support a 300-acre farm outside the Zimbabwean capital, Harare, where 85 farmers are trained in commercial farming. "The produce is sold by farmers and the surplus is kept by farmers," she said.

Just two months ago the British Charity Commission issued a tight-lipped statement in relation to its investigation. The inquiry had been focused on "high-administrative costs and the level of control over funds sent to Africa", it said, and as a result the commission appointed four trustees to ensure "its funds are properly applied." The commission refuses to publish its report into the charity.

This week a spokeswoman said Humana Ltd UK had separated from the international Humana People to People federation when the investigation began. The separation occurred because of the controversy, she said, and no funding goes to Humana's Development Aid People to People, the organisation which has now set up in Ireland. The spokeswoman claimed the commission had "found nothing wrong" with Humana People to People.

"The Charity Commission made the decision that the funds should no longer be transferred to the federation (Humana People to People). In practical terms, to have a good relationship with the UK non-governmental organisations we set up Humana Ltd UK. We work with UNICEF and Care International UK," she said.

The Federation of Humana DAPP organisations with headquarters in Denmark and Zimbabwe has published an "annual report" most recently in 1996. No financial details are included in the report about the earnings of the federation.

The report states that one of the objectives of the organisation is "to be on top of international standards of accountability and perform with great care according to the standards set forth by Humana People to People."

However, the standards of Humana and its sister organisation have been found lacking in other European countries. In Humana's home country of Denmark state grants to Tvind schools were abolished following an investigation two years ago. The Tvind schools had been receiving up to 60 per cent state funding, £14.77 million. A spokesman for the Danish Ministry of Education said the investigation centred on their accounting practices. "Between the schools we could not see through what was going on, the money going from one to another." Danish police also investigated financial irregularities in the schools.

The spokesman said the Ministry of Education was taking a court case against one of the schools to attempt to retrieve £105,000.

The schools, he said, remain open, and Tvind still collects money through fund-raising. Humana also operates second-hand clothes shops in Denmark. "Exactly how the movement is organised is a puzzle," he said. "The organisation is not willing to reveal what is going on inside. It is very secret. There is a group of people, referred to as a teachers' group, that is in charge. Their interests are very widespread, as far as the Caribbean and Brazil."

State funding was recently agreed for one of the community development projects in Zimbabwe, but only after UFF agreed to make changes to its structure, making it more democratic.

However, Mr Per Lindstrom, an official at the Swedish embassy in Dublin, said much of the negative information about the organisation was "quite false". He saw the group's work in Angola when he was ambassador there. "What they did was quite impressive. I saw them at work planting forests, starting various types of agricultural activities, a fisheries project, and a shop where they sold clothes."

Mr Richard Lugg, an officer with Hounslow Council in London, has been an outspoken critic of Humana for over a decade. "About 10 years ago they put a clothes bin in our borough," he said. "I was asked to look at it and I asked them for paperwork but they said they did not have any. I never came across a charity that did not inundate you with paper about what they do." Their Third World efforts, such as the clothing projects, often destroy indigenous industry, he said. He said the British Charity Commission had a very limited remit and generally only get involved if a charity is failing. "Tvind is not a failing charity. It has millions of pounds." Following the commission investigation, he said, the money which the organisation makes is more strictly controlled. "But they are still running shops. The commission appointed four British trustees to outvote the three Danes, but really this is not very effective because the trustees meet around three times a year."

The organisation has more than 100 Internet websites, most aimed at recruiting workers for African projects. Students must pay for training courses and are involved in fund-raising while they train.

Another Internet site advertises the Tvind empire's latest venture - the Tvind/SETI observatory. SETI is an acronym for Seeking Extraterrestrial Intelligence. Amateur radio hams are encouraged to become members, at a cost of $50 annually. For a one-off payment of $1 million the amateur can become a "benefactor member". American dollars only are accepted and credit card payments drawn on US banks are encouraged. All the membership fees come to the organisation tax-free as the organisation is a registered charity in the US, according to the application form.

Humana Ireland's response:

Sir, - In the report "Charity investigated for alleged irregularities has set up here" by Alison O'Connor and Catherine Cleary (The Irish Times, October 30th), Humana People to People, of which I am a director, is described in a scandalous and misleading manner.

I would like to make the following comments. Humana People to People in Ireland is a charity whose aim and only interest is to raise funds for development aid projects. We are an entirely law-abiding organisation. We are registering at all governmental bodies, as required of charities in Ireland.

Our main way of fundraising is through the collection and sale of used clothing. Whenever used clothing is sold, it is done in accordance with the respective laws, and with payment of VAT and taxes where this applies. The benefits of the sales are entirely spent on development aid projects, according to our objectives.

Humana People to People is an Irish-based charity. We have our own board of directors and we have no financial connection with Humana UK, nor with any school in Denmark.

Although I have stated this very clearly in the interview I gave to The Irish Times, the article has attached great suspicion to Humana People to People in Ireland by writing about investigations in Humana Ltd UK, and of the schools in Denmark.

The description of us being "worldwide empire described as a non-religious sect" and being part of a "wealthy Danish cult" is completely unjust. I would therefore like to clarify who are working in Humana People to People in Ireland. I started working with Humana seven years ago as a volunteer in a child aid project in Mozambique. I worked alongside seven Mozambicans to built 3 clinics so that local people could receive treatment and health education. I now work here in Ireland alongside Ann, an English girl who has recently returned from working in a child aid project in Angola. Our daily work is to make agreements with shop owners/pub owners for the instalment of clothing banks.

Our only concern is to raise funds for development aid projects. There is a big need for health education, information about HIV/Aids, vocational schools and agricultural projects in many countries in the world. We want to contribute our share to development by starting up Humana in Ireland.

You can hardly call us a "Danish cult." am not even Danish, I am Dutch.

Just like many other people in Ireland, we are very concerned about developing some of the poorest countries in the world. We give people the possibility to support development work. They can donate their used clothes, money or participate as a volunteer in the work in Ireland or at one of our projects in Africa.

It is a shame for you and your readers that you have taken no interest in our work in Africa. - Yours, etc.,

Pauline Van De Stadt,

Humana People to People in Ireland,
Brandan Road,
Dublin 12.

Alison O'Connor and Catherine Cleary write: Humana People to People Ireland is an arm of an international organisation whose activities have been investigated in a number of European countries. Ms van de Stadt's responses to our questions were included prominently in the articles, where she was described as a Dutch national.

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