Cult leader tries the charity route

MSNBC/October 22, 2001
By Jeanette Walls

Controversial characters and groups keep trying to use the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to give themselves credibility, some critics are charging. Last month, the Church of Scientology raised eyebrows when victims were told to call the group for mental heath counseling. New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani created a buzz when he turned down a $10 million check from a controversial Saudi Prince.

Now, sources say, a woman who has been called a cult leader has been trying very hard to give major donations to charities benefiting the victims of the terrorist attacks as well as Afghan refugees. Suma Ching Hai, a Taiwan-based mystic also known as the Supreme Master, made headlines in 1997 after it was revealed that she made a $600,000 contribution to Bill Clinton. The red-faced president returned the check. Lately, sources say Suma Ching Hai's reps have been working the phones hoping to give big money to major charities, including Unicef and the American Red Cross.

"Ching Hai has a history of making large gifts in exchange for photo opportunities and what seems like self-promotion to gain credibility among the general public and her followers," Rick Ross, an expert in cults and controversial religions, told The Scoop. "Her followers consider her a messianic figure and she derives her income from tapes, videos and a chain of vegetarian restaurants that are often staffed by devotees."

The source says Suma Ching Hai has been calling Unicef and has already made a two sizeable donations to the American Red Cross. A spokeswoman for Unicef says the organization doesn't comment on donors or potential donors.

A spokeswoman for the American Red Cross said she knows nothing of the donations. "We've had such a huge volume of donations that we haven't had the chance to sort through them all," she says. "But we're concerned about these allegations. If they turn out to be true, we will consider returning the donations."

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