Haitian-American singer Wyclef Jean held a press conference in New York on Monday to defend against accusations that he has profited from his charity Yele Haiti.
Since the massive earthquake that struck Haiti last Tuesday, Jean has called on the public to text "YELE" to 501501 to donate $5 to the Yele Haiti Earthquake Fund, which has raised over $2 million in just days, according to the Associated Press.
"Yele's books are open and transparent. We have been given a clean bill of health by an external auditor every year since we started," Jean told reporters.
He denied all accusations that he personally benefited from Yele Haiti, and pointed out that he gave $1 million of his own money to the charity.
He referred all further questions on finances to the Hugh Locke, the president of the foundation, saying, "My people are dying and I have to go back to the ground in a few days for a mission relief."
This was the second time in three days Jean has defended the charity. He posted a video on YouTube on Saturday saying he had just returned from Haiti to face an "attack on my integrity and my foundation Yele Haiti." In a rambling explanation, he said Yele Haiti is an NGO he set up to address his native country's needs. He ended the video with another appeal for $5 donations in response for the "state of emergency" in Haiti and expressing gratitude for global aid to the country. Click play below to watch the video:
Celebrities -- who seem to rally on behalf of other celebrities' charities -- have posted and tweeted to donate to Jean's foundation. I wrote about celebrity donations to Haiti last Thursday, and it struck me as odd that Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt -- who have visited Haiti with Wyclef Jean and put out an initial statement supporting him -- later announced their $1 million donation was made to Doctors Without Borders. I read through the couple's two statements many times to make sure I understood correctly that they support Jean's charity -- and yet they weren't putting their money into it. Hmm.
By the end of last week, The Smoking Gun released IRS forms filed by Yele Haiti that seem to show the nonprofit used donations to pay "the performer and his business partner at least $410,000 for rent, production services, and Jean's appearance at a benefit concert." The foundation has filed tax returns for only three of the 12 years it has been active, and filed those forms only this past August. Jean has not addressed specific financial questions in his recent statements, but defended himself by saying: "Accusations have been made about me and about Yele. I'm not at all sad by this because my daddy told me the day would always come where you would always be challenged by doing good work."
I think Jean is sincere in his love of his homeland, and the many years dedicated to helping the poverty-stricken Haitians proves his heart is in the right place. But questions remain: Is his charity truly delivering relief and aid to the needy with minimum overhead in administrative and other expenses incurred by Jean and his staff?
And are donations to other charitable organizations in Haiti -- Partners in Health and Doctors Without Borders, among the many -- more efficiently used to benefit the people? From the evidence I've seen, that would seem to be the case.
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