Who has been involved in Mayday Rescue and its funding?

Mayday Rescue was a Dutch registered foundation and NGO which was used for training the Syria Civil Defence, better known as the White Helmets. Mayday Rescue reports that between 2014 and 2018 the White Helmets received funding of $127 million mainly from governments.

Lots has been published about the White Helmets. This blogpost is basically an overview of who was involved in Mayday Rescue and who were the states which funded it.

On 10 September 2018 the Netherlands government announced that funding for the White Helmets would be discontinued after December 2018.

After the suicide of the founder James Le Mesurier of Mayday Rescue, in November 2019, the Dutch government wanted to know if there was indeed fraude as James Le Mesurier had stated in a letter addressed to donor states a few days before his death.

Le Mesurier stated he took $ 50,000 in cash for an emercency operation in southern Syria and made fake receipts after an accountancy firm asked for evidence. However later accountant Grant Thornton stated that “The key finding of our investigation of the flagged transactions leads us to believe that there is no evidence of misappropriation of funds… we have been able to refute the alleged irregularities. In particular, the cash withdrawals by James Le Mesurier and Emma Winberg were justified and are accounted for. The events surrounding the ‘50k Emergency Fund’ appear to be a result of a misunderstanding” and not fraud

Mayday Rescue’s bookkeeping had certainly been shoddy, but the auditors had found nothing to support any of the far more serious allegations that had been made. 

In January 2021 Dutch The Tax and Customs Administration is claiming over 114,000 Euros. related to unpaid payroll taxes in the Netherlands. (source)

Stichting Mayday Rescue Foundation

A stichting (non-profit organization) located in Amsterdam which was the European cashbox for the White Helmets. Many payments by donorstates where transfered by bank to the account of Mayday. It was founded at November 5, 2015. Rescue Mayday had three directors: Per Fredslund Thiessen, (Treasurer, finance director till August 2018 according his Linkedin profile ), Katie Elias Dimitri Plathonoff, (Secretary) and Rupert Charles Owen Davis, (chairman).

According to Mayday, between 2014 and 2018 the programme funds totalled USD 127 mln., of which USD 19 mln. comes from private parties. The Netherlands has contributed around EUR 12 million during this period.

Mayday Rescue paid the White Helmtes organization using three ways. Bank transfer, Hawala or cash payments.

The financial system in areas controlled by the opposition in Syria has entirely shut down. The only way to transfer money into these areas is by using informal money transferring systems like Hawala.The Hawala (transfer) system is based on trust. Single transactions are managed by various layers of agents. There is no paper trail.

End of 2018 there was no supervisory board at Mayday despite dutch national law and the status of Mayday requiring so.

Mayday Rescue FZ-LLC
A commercial company registered in Dubai and owned by James Le Mesurier

Mayday Arama Kurtarma Egitim ve Danismanlik Hizmetleri Limited (2014). A Turkish registered company with director Le Mesurier. The adress in Istanbul is a three-storey building, recently renovated with a cafe on the ground floor, and was one of the residences of Le Mesurier and his wife during the last few months of his life. This was the Mayday headquarters. All functions were delivered from this office.

This company was a subsidiary of the Stichting Mayday Rescue.

Mayday Search and Rescue Training and Consultancy Services Limited
A Turkish company with James Le Mesurier as director. The company is located 3 Ali Pasa Medresesi Sok. in Beyoğlu. The same address where Le Mesurier slept and died on 11 November 2019.

A company named R3Covery BV based in Amsterdam was founded in April 2017 by James Le Mesurier. On 20 August 2018 the company name was changed from R3covery to Sisu Global BV (KvK 68510705), and on 6 November 2018 Le Mesurier resigned as director. Directors (bestuurders) of ther company were Emma Hedvig Christina Winberg, Rupert Charles Owen Davis and James Gustaf Edward Le Mesurier. The address of the company was Herengracht 282 in Amsterdam. An addess used by many firms as an virtual address.

Administrators / Board of directors of Mayday Rescue

James Le Mesurier

According to a list sent by Mayday to the Dutch Foreign Affairs Department in 2017, Le Mesurier is receiving 24,000 euros in salary each month. In 2018, one of the administrators even received 320,000 dollars for that year.

On November 9, 2019, two days before his suicide, Le Mesurier sent a whatapp message to CFO Johan Eleveld with the text:

I owe you a huge apology. As the implications of whats’s happening settles in, I’ve begun to realise that I saw you as an obstacle to what I believed the mission was. You saw the risks and tried to explain them to me, and tried to resolve them. I was utterly convinced – even after SMK spoke to me – that it was their lack of understanding of the Syria context and I blamed you for what I perceived as leading them to the issues that they found. (..)”

Emma Hedvig Christina Winberg

Wife of James Le Mesurier. Was appointed director of Stichting Mayday Rescue in 2018

Rupert Davies
One of the three directors, together with Winberg and Le Mesurier. A former military man. The three complain to the donor countries about being ‘relatively underpaid’.

Johan Eleveld

Chief Financial Officer of the Mayday Rescue Foundation from August 20 2018 to August 2020. Became CFO at May 22, 2019. Was hired by Le Mesurier to improve the financial bookkeeping. Ordered an audit by SMK Accountants. Spoke to Le Mesurier in Istanbul a few days before his suicide. Told Le Mesurier 50.000 Dollar in cash was missing.

Had a clause in his contract stating he is not allowed to talk to press.

At February 17, 2020 the office of Mayday Rescue and that of the White Helmets were emptied by a company ordered by Johan Eleveld. Photos can be seen here.

He was suspended at March 13 2020. Was fired by Cor Vrieswijk of the supervisory board of Mayday Rescue. Eleveld threatened to contact media if he was fired. Eleveld went to Dutch court as he disagreed. The verdict of the Dutch court can be read here.

Bestuursraad/ Supervisory Board

Around December 2019 it was decided to establish a supervisory board. The board has a veto to prevent descisions by the directors to be exectured. The head of the board was Cor Vrieswijk.

Cor Vrieswijk
a former Chief Operating Officer for airlines like Transavia, EasyJet and Thomas Cook Airlines. As an Interim Executive  he worked for the supervisor board of Mayday Rescue since March 2020 to troubleshoot after James Le Mesurier died.

Jeroen Jansen Member of supervisory board

Rob Van Eck Member of supervisory board

Accountancy firm

BDO UK did in June 2019 an audit on Mayday Rescue. Details are not publically available

SMK Audit Nederland is a Dutch firm. On request by Johan Eleveld SMK did an audit on the financial situation of Mayday Rescue. Advised to implement a supervisory board. This relative small firm was selected after unsuccessful efforts to secure the services of a major Dutch audit firm, as they considered Mayday and Syria audit engagement to be too high risk. SMK did an audit on the Batal 15 payment of the Netherlands. SMK during a meeting at November 7 expressed concerns to Johan Eleveld and Le Mesurier.

The reported issues were on;

  • High Salaries (..) salary payments to the board member Johan Eleveld.
  • Executive Remuneration Benefits (..)
  • Related Parties (..) apparent difference between funds disbursed by Mayday and received by the SCD (White Helmets)
  • Mayday FZ LLC (..). This company registered in Dubai was sold for $ 320.000 to Stichting Rescue Mayday Foundation. SMK considered this as illegal.
  • Personal Liabillity (..)
  • Articles of Association (..)”

Grant Thornton.

On 16 December 2019 Grant Thornton was requested to investigate the facts and circumstances with respect to alleged financial irregularities and in particular the (justification for) cash withdrawals made between 1 September 2016 to and including 1 November 2019 from the Istanbul office of the Stichting Mayday Rescue Foundation. As a result of additional information and subsequent developments the scope of the investigation was expanded in time until 13 March 2020.

Wrote a report titled “Report of factual findings relating to stichting Mayday Rescue Foundation” which was handed over to the client around May 29, 2020. The report itself was not made public.

The management summary of the GT report can be read here.

International Donor Group (IDG)


A group of states who donated money to Mayday Rescue. Which states participated in this group is not clear.

Investigations

In May 2018 Dutch staff of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs travelled to Turkey to discuss the monitoring of funds provided by the Netherlands. The Directie Internationaal Onderzoek en Beleidsevaluatie (IOB) did an evaluation of three dutch paid programmes in Syria: White Helmets, Access to Justice and Community Services (AJACS) and Non-Lethal Assistance (NLA). The report can be read here.

The conclusion was that monitoring by the White Helmets on spending Dutch money was not sufficient.

The IOB report stated that the monitoring systems that are in place are ‘inadequate for determining whether sufficient safeguards are in place to detect irregularities’

Documents were requested by a journalist based on the WOB (FOIA). These documents can be found here.

Auditdienst Rijk (ADR)

ADR is the Dutch audit service responsible for checking the payments by Dutch goverment. In summer 2020 ADR advised Ministry for Foreign Affairs to reclaim 3,6 million euro paid to Mayday Rescue. The advise cannot be found on internet. dutch newspaper Volkskrant reported about the ADR advise in 2021.

Thr Ministry ignored the advise. It did not pay the last 57.000 euro of the grant though.

Dutch minister Kaag

Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation. Works for Ministry for Foreign Affairs. Responsible for the grant given to Mayday Rescue

Donorstates

The Netherlands. Ministerie van Buitenlandse Zaken (Ministry of Foreign Affairs) . Paid from December 25, 2015 to May 11 (dutch ministry records show November) 2018 12.5 million Euros to Stichting Mayday Rescue.

FEZ = Financial and Economic Affairs Department of Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs

DSH = Directie Stabiliteit en Humanitaire Hulp / Stabilisation and Humanitarian Aid Department of Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs

DAM= Directie Afrika en Midden-Oosten/North Africa and Middle East Department of Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs

IOB= Directie Internationaal Onderzoek en Beleidsevaluatie = Policy and Operations Evaluation Department of Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs


The grant was paid from the ODA (Official Development Assistance) budget. This is a budget to help other countries and based on 0,7 % of the Gross domestic product (GDP) / Bruto National Product.

The United Kingdom . Conflict Security and Stability Fund paid £43 million from 2015 to 2018 to the commercial company Mayday Rescue FZ-LLC in Dubai.

Germany Ministry of Foreign Affairs paid . with a leter dated March 10, 2020 the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs requested Mayday to pay back the amount of € 49.596,92 at the latest by March 24, 2020.

Denmark – Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Paid in 201 $4.5 million

Japan paid in 2015 $0.55 million

France also was/is a donor

Qatar was/is a donor

United States funding for the White Helmets is provided through a US-based company Chemonics. In 2015 US spent US $6 million,

Payments

BATAL 6 Dutch support project 27585 . Between 1st January and 31st December 2016, the Government of the
Netherlands supported Syria Civil Defence (the White Helmets) with funding of
£1,406,368 as part of a total grant of £3,722,716 to be executed through
Mayday Rescue from 1 April 2015 to 31 December 2017.

batal 10 : Euro 4,886,374,96 January 1, 2017 – December 31, 2017
Pillar 1: Euro 998,475,60

Batal 15, another dutch payment worth GBP 2.255.386, 89

Batal 18. British-Danish budget for the White Helmets: subsidy Batal (‘Hero’) 18.

FrankfortSluis Lawyers

A Dutch lawyers firm hired by Johan Eleveld. Hired after the death of Le Mesurier. FrakfortSluis ordered Grant Thornton Forensic & Investigation Services B.V. to do a forensic audit on Mayday Rescue.

Curator

In August 2020 Mayday Rescue went bankrupt. The dutch curator is Els Doornhein. According to her the bankrupt was casued by unrest among donor countries “about the foundation’s governance as well as possible fraud,”.

Information on the bankrupt can be found in this Dutch register.

Dutch Parliament

After publication by Volkskant about minister Kaag not informing parliament, the JA21 party asked question to be answered by Kaag.

Sources

WOB besluit over Mayday Rescue This has two large PDF files full of e-mail sent by staff of Dutch ministries about the audit on Rescue Mayday

James Le Mesurier: a reconstruction of his business activities and covert role Documented by the Working Group on Syria Propaganda and Media, a pro-Assad group of people.

Wob-verzoek over de Nederlandse financiële bijdrages aan Stichting Mayday Rescue april 2020

The Guardian October 27, 2020 article


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