Red-faced over a guru's gift

New York Post/October 23, 2001

The American Red Cross has received $100,000 from a publicity-loving cult leader whose money isn't good enough even for Bill Clinton.

Suma Ching Hai, a Taiwan-based guru who calls herself Supreme Master, gets her income from a chain of vegetarian restaurants run by her followers, who also buy her overpriced tapes and videos.

In 1997, Ching Hai made headlines when it was revealed she'd made a $600,000 donation to Clinton. The red-faced Prez promptly returned his check from the messianic mystic.

Ching Hai evidently viewed the Sept. 11 atrocity as an opportunity to legitimize herself, and soon had her devotees working the phones to various charities.

On Monday, dirt-digger Jeannette Walls reported that Ching Hai had approached both UNICEF and the Red Cross with an open checkbook. UNICEF declined comment, and the Red Cross said it knew nothing of the donations.

But insiders told The Post's Jeane MacIntosh that UNICEF did its homework on Ching Hai, and immediately turned down her $100,000.

Not so the Red Cross, which has two checks of $50,000 apiece sitting at its offices - and yesterday was reportedly still mulling cashing in.

"Ching Hai sent two checks to two different Red Cross locations," says a source. "That way, it would be less obvious than one big check coming in. She tried to fly under the radar."

When Red Cross brass found out about the contribution to UNICEF (Ching Hai had reportedly bragged to U.N. agency that the Red Cross took her dough), it looked into the matter, but found nothing donated under the mystic's real name, says the source. "They finally found them under the name Supreme Master."

Cult expert Rick Ross said, "Ching Hai has a history of making large gifts in exchange for photo opportunities and what seems like self-promotion."

Sources say she used that m.o. with UNICEF, promising the cash in return for a photo of herself handing UNICEF bigs an oversized check. When suspicious UNICEF honchos balked, Ching Hai persisted, asking for the group's bank account number so she could wire the money.

"She was very persistent," says one insider. "She just wouldn't take no for an answer. It was clear she was in it for publicity."

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