The Swedish Red Cross Swindle


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Swedish Charity Swindler Johan af Donner

The Swedish Red Cross scandal where the head of communications for years swindled money from the Red Cross has led to a decline in donations to the Swedish Red Cross this fall.  This morning I heard an interview on NPR (National Public Radio) with a Haitian man who together with some friends run their own rescue group, using what they have, their arms and legs. They sent a message to all of us that listened; "Please do not give any money or food to our government, then we will never see it. Come here and give money and food directly to the people and it will come to better use."   In this time of catastrophy when so many of us want to help there are scams like the Facebook pages and fake organisations that pop-up in times of disaster and just take well meaning people's money. One might think it is safer to give to one of the bigger, well establised charities.

Johan af Donner became the head of communications at the Swedish Red Cross in 2004, before that he had had chief positions at the Red Cross until 1997. During his first time with the Red Cross in the 90's he used the Red Cross credit card for private expenses and after several abuses, the card was taken away from him. The management received an anonymous letter claiming that Johan af Donner had faked his academic records, stolen from previous employers and that the Red Cross with a few phone calls easily could check certain facts about their employee, this was never done. The Swedish business site realtid.se contacted officials of Stockholm's University to verify af Donner's claim that he had earned a Bachelor's degree from the university in 1980, the officials confirmed that af Donner had never been granted a degree from the university.

In 1997 Johan af Donner left the Red Cross and went to the Swedish Cancer Society to a chief position until 2004 when he came back to the Red Cross. In May 2009 he was charged for having swindled the charities for more than 8 million SEK ($1.3 million). The chairman of the  Swedish Red Cross Bengt Westerberg, former party leader of Folkpartiet, commented the arrest; "It is probably a misunderstanding, Johan af Donner has not stolen any money, he had just been involved in unapproved moonlighting."

The Swedish chief prosecutor Alf Johansson do not agree with Bengt Westerberg that Johan af Donner doing a little moonlighting. He calls it gross fraud. Johan af Donner's partners in crime, the people that helped him with the fake invoicing to a printing company will probably, together with Johan af Donner go to prison.  The trio that between 2000 and 2009 stole $400 000 from the Swedish Cancer Foundation and $800 000 from the Red Cross will get get prison time for their crimes, it is not sure though that the money lost from the Cancer Foundation and the Red Cross can ever be refunded.
 
It is obvious that the Swedish Red Cross needs to take full responsability for the fraud committed under their watch. There are many scammers around and they take what they can get for as long as they can. The complete lack of fiscal control, the apathy from the management about the worries from the administrative staff and others surrounding Johan af Donner is a sign arrogance towards the people that rely on help from the Red Cross and the people that give their money to the charity.
Knowing that Johan af Donner already in the 90's was using the Red Cross credit card he had for personal costs, and that the card was actually taken from him makes it even more difficult to believe in the comments from the management that they had no idea on what was going on and that they had full confidence in him. One explanation, but certainly not an excuse, is the charities recruitment traditions recruiting celebs and friends from the inner circle that go to the same parties, are members of the same golf or hunting clubs and during the weekdays manage a few companies and charities together. If you belong to the inner circle you become a trusted friend that can get away with any claim knowing that no one will jeopardize their friendship by verifying a claim. This is a very effective way to deny any competence into the organisations so that life can go on as usual for this little group of friends. The general manager of the Swedish Red Cross, Christer Zettergren who gets 1 086 129 SEK per year from the Red Cross has been accused by Red Cross employees to not having reacted to concerns expressed for years about af Donner's invoices and direct payments to his bank accounts. However, Christer Zettergren still has his well paid job.

The Swedish Red cross receives around 200 million SEK per year in donations.
Their business is to receive the rich and give to the poor. Obviously Johan af Donner felt he was poor enough to take some of the donations so he just transferred them to his bank account, for years!
The American Express statements show that the Red Cross donations that Johan af Donner stole was used for luxury consumption, a lavish life style of shopping in the most expensive boutiques in Stockholm, eating at the best restaurants, world wide travelling living in luxury hotels, payments to private clubs and rent for luxury summer homes is what Johan af Donner deemed be the best use of the Red Cross money. His monthly salary of 39 000 SEK was obviously not enough. This is not surprising as maintaining your position in the inner circle is expensive, but it obviously pays off!

I am looking forward to a complete investigation and full transparency of the investigation on how this could happen and a complete action plan for how to restore the fiscal control in the Red Cross and thereby the confidence in the organisation. I also wonder if Johan af Donner is the only swindler that have skimmed the donations to the Swedish Red Cross?

One person did his due diligence before he donated the Swedish record of 100 million SEK to SOS Barnbyar charity to help the victims of the Haiti earthquake. The Swedish business man Roger Akelius declared that he would not donate funds to a charity that pays their board of directors. The board of directors and general secretary of a charity should not get paid, said Roger Akelius, SOS Barnbyar does not pay their general secretaty nor their board of directors, that is why I trusted them with my donation. Roger Akelius said to the business site e24.se that the Red Cross should be more open about the salaries they pay to the higher management, he suggested the Red Cross to use the following in their next campaign; "If 10 000 Swedes, send 100 SEK ($15) each via textmessaging, we can pay our chairman Bengt Westerberg his annual salary."

Well, I am not interested in paying fat cats more money than they already have.  

Comments

1 - im not only speaking for myself here. when this was made public i haven't given a way one penny away to charity, because where does the money actually go? to get the money where it is meant to be you have to fly over there and give it to them in the hand, otherwise it'll end up with hypocritical greedy bastards like in this case. Will take a good while before i donate money again, so this will probably have a long term effect on swedish donations as well, not only the money he spent for himself. (im swedish by the way)

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