By Ben Norton – May 7, 2021
The Netherlands investigated fraud by the Mayday Rescue Foundation, which funded the Syrian White Helmets with over $120 million in Western government contracts. But top Dutch officials covered up the corruption.
The decade-long dirty war on Syria proved to be a cash cow for some of the most prominent US and UK regime-change operatives. Western government contractors got hundreds of millions of dollars to run schemes to destabilize Damascus – and some of them took a cut for themselves, profiting off of the pillage.
One of the main players in the cottage industry of contractors that helped run the Western regime-change war on Syria, and which was eventually implicated in a massive corruption scandal, was the Mayday Rescue Foundation.
Mayday served as the fiscal sponsor of Syria Civil Defense, known popularly as the White Helmets, a deceptive humanitarian interventionist operation that became a key propaganda weapon in the dirty war on Damascus.
With more than $120 million in funding from numerous Western governments, the White Helmets were portrayed in servile media campaigns and by slick PR films as a noble philanthropic group dedicated to saving civilian lives. In reality, the organization functioned as the de facto civil and medical infrastructure for areas in Syria that were controlled by brutal, theocratic Salafi-jihadist insurgents.
The White Helmets operated exclusively in areas run by the Syrian armed opposition, and collaborated extensively with extremists, including ISIS and al-Qaeda. White Helmets were even filmed assisting in public executions on numerous occasions.
The White Helmets helped NATO member Turkey militarily invade and ethnically cleanse Kurdish-majority towns in northern Syria as part of a plan to repopulate those areas with Sunni Muslim Arabs who supported Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Following the invasion, schoolchildren were indoctrinated with Turkish nationalist propaganda.
A Syria producer at the BBC has even stated that the White Helmets helped stage a fake chemical weapons attack in the city of Douma, to try to pin the blame on the Syrian government and spur Western military intervention against it.
Yet while Western governments were lavishing the White Helmets with praise and funneling huge sums of taxpayer money into their parent organization, the Netherlands-based Mayday Rescue Foundation, they were also quietly investigating the group for fraud.
A series of mainstream Dutch media reports document how the Netherlands knew Mayday had presided over serious financial irregularities, but top officials covered it up, refusing to inform elected lawmakers and even ignoring recommendations from their own regulators to reclaim millions of dollars worth of contracts.
Dutch officials feared that exposing Mayday’s corruption could harm the Western regime-change efforts targeting Syria, and might sully the benevolent image of the White Helmets that was carefully constructed over years of constant promotion and obsequious propaganda.
The scandal is a particularly disturbing illustration of how footsoldiers of the Non-Profit Industrial Complex tug at the heartstrings of Western liberals not only to advance Western foreign policy interests, but also to line their own pockets with millions of dollars flowing through opaque contracts.
The controversy also demonstrates how Western government officials protected war profiteers while keeping the constituents whose tax dollars were wasted away in the dark about the documented corruption in their midst.
Dutch government investigated White Helmets sponsor Mayday Rescue for fraud – but covered it up
This May 7, the Dutch-language newspaper de Volkskrant published a report revealing that the Netherlands had investigated the Mayday Rescue Foundation for fraud.
Western European governments poured more than €100 million ($121 million) into Mayday to fund the White Helmets, including Britain, Germany, Canada, Denmark, and the Netherlands. The United States also pitched in, sending tens of millions of dollars to the White Helmets.
The Dutch government contributed €12.5 million ($15.2 million) to Mayday. But by late 2018, the Netherlands suspected corruption and stopped funding the organization, “due to concerns in The Hague about financial supervision and the organization,” de Volkskrant wrote.
The Dutch government subsequently investigated, and in mid-2020 the Netherlands’ Central Audit Service advised the government to reclaim more than €3.6 million in tax money that it had given to Mayday.
“It is not certain whether the millions were spent on their intended purpose,” the newspaper stated.
But the Dutch government did not request this money. Instead, the Netherlands’ minister for foreign trade and development cooperation, Sigrid Kaag, decided to halt a final payment of a mere €57,000 to Mayday – just 1.6 percent of what the audit office had recommended be returned to the state’s coffers.
Even this paltry decision was largely symbolic, because Mayday had already spent the more than $120 million in government contracts it received and was bankrupt by the time Kaag decided to halt payments.
Kaag wilde Kamer informeren over fraudemelding bij stichting, ambtenaren hielden brief tegen https://t.co/KT0pZ9UlWm
— de Volkskrant (@volkskrant) May 7, 2021
In a letter to Western governments, the late founder and director of Mayday Rescue, James Le Mesurier admitted to fraud and unethical financial behavior, such as “very high salaries, cash bonuses and unpaid taxes,” de Volkskrant noted.
But the newspaper report makes it clear that the fraud investigation had become a point of conflict inside the Dutch government. Officials who supported the regime-change war on Syria sought to downplay the scandal.
The foreign trade minister, Kaag, wanted to inform the parliament about the fraud investigation, so she wrote a letter, and planned to send it to the Dutch House of Representatives. (De Volkskrant obtained drafts of the document via a public records request.)
But Kaag was pressured to censor the letter. Top officials at the Foreign Affairs Ministry insisted she not send it because she was not legally obligated to do so. They feared the revelation “may unjustly harm” Mayday and the White Helmets.
The result: The letter was never sent, MPs were never informed of the known corruption, and Dutch taxpayers were not able to learn that Mayday mishandled enormous sums of money it received from numerous donor governments, including their own.
White Helmets czar James Le Mesurier admits fraud, then dies days later
In November 2019, the Mayday Rescue Foundation’s founder, former British military intelligence officer James Le Mesurier, died under strange circumstances in Istanbul, Turkey.
Turkish authorities said he committed suicide, jumping to his death.
Le Mesurier had served in the British army in Northern Ireland and former Yugoslavia, before later working for private security companies. By 2014, he founded Mayday Rescue and became the key Western point-man running the White Helmets psychological operation.
While corporate media marketed Le Mesurier as a humanitarian hero, he and his colleagues were cashing in on the regime-change scheme.
Three days before his death, Le Mesurier confessed to serious financial improprieties. On November 8, he sent an email to donor countries admitting that Mayday had committed fraud. He said he had forged receipts, writing, “I take full and sole responsibility for it.”
But Le Mesurier insisted that the corruption must not come to light, because if it were leaked to the media, it would be a “victory for Russia and the pro-Assad trolls.”
De Volkskrant reported this in July 2020, in an article titled “Founder of Foundation behind White Helmets Admits Fraud.”
A journalist who co-authored the report, Ana van Es, noted that the Western governments that had funded the White Helmets had heeded Le Mesurier’s warning and were “keeping quiet about the wrongdoings.”
Last year James le Mesurier, founder of Mayday Rescue Foundation, which supported the White Helmets in Syria, admitted fraud and financial mismanagement. European donor countries ended their funding while keeping quiet about the wrongdoings.https://t.co/Xr5bx5W4Ix
— Ana van Es (@esvanana) July 17, 2020
The earlier de Volkskrant report details how a Dutch accountant began investigating Mayday in November 2019, and found that Le Mesurier had forged receipts and paid money that was designated for the White Helmets to himself personally.
The article reveals just how suspicious Mayday’s financial dealings were. While the foundation was often portrayed in fawning Western media coverage as a benevolent non-profit humanitarian organization, it actually had for-profit commercial branches in Turkey and Dubai.
“There was no supervisory board, which meant that administrators could decide their own salaries, which in some cases amounted to 26,000 euros a month,” de Volkskrant wrote.
This means that some Mayday staff were being paid around $380,000 per year. “Such figures are above the approved salary ceiling of a subsidised organisation in the Netherlands,” the newspaper noted.
“In addition, Le Mesurier, his wife – also one of the administrators – and a third administrator would pay themselves cash bonuses, on top of their salaries,” the article continued.
James’ wife Emma Le Mesurier has rejected the claims of fraud which her own late husband admitted to, and aggressively trolls virtually any journalists on Twitter who mention the scandal.
However, a new administrator hired to try to clean up Mayday’s reputation, Cor Vrieswijk, acknowledged to the Dutch newspaper that the enormous salaries were indeed “excessive,” but added that the Western “donor countries knew about this and had given their consent.”
Western diplomats covered up White Helmets corruption to “avoid political risks” and ensure “minimal exposure”
The May 2021 report in de Volkskrant revealed that when Western governments learned of the corruption scandal at the Mayday Rescue Foundation, they immediately plotted to cover it up.
When Le Mesurier admitted fraud and died three days later, Western diplomats quickly convened a series of “crisis meetings” in the Dutch consulate in Istanbul, the newspaper said.
“The Netherlands saw itself politically as ‘extra vulnerable,’” de Volkskrant wrote. “After all, Mayday is located in Amsterdam. The millions of payments from the foundation went through Dutch accounts.”
When accountants subsequently investigated and found serious irregularities, the donor countries continued their damage control.
In February 2020, Western diplomats met again in Istanbul, where they discussed “avoiding political risks” and ways to ensure “minimal exposure.”
An accounting firm called Grant Thornton investigated Mayday. It technically said it did not find evidence of fraud beyond what Le Mesurier admitted to, but that was largely because the firm’s finances were such a mess that it was nearly impossible to audit them.
As Dutch government officials told de Volkskrant, “Fraud cannot be proven because ‘critical’ parts of the accounts are ‘not traceable.’”
“The bookkeeping was seriously inadequate,” the newspaper wrote. “There was no internal financial supervision. Payments turned out not to be traceable afterwards.”
De Volkskrant continued:
The report did not allay concerns at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Grant Thornton’s findings raised doubts about the accuracy of financial reports previously submitted by Mayday. According to officials, ‘it could not be established with certainty’ that the Dutch subsidy had indeed been spent on the White Helmets. When an officer asks which expenses cannot be audited, a colleague replies, ‘All expenses to the White Helmets.’
Western government funding for White Helmets continues despite corruption
Despite the corruption documented by the Dutch government, Western state funding for the White Helmets has continued, as the United States and European Union have doubled down on their dirty war against Syria.
The US and EU have imposed one of the most aggressive sanctions regimes in modern history to destabilize Syria and oust its government. The de facto blockade, amounting to collective punishment of millions of civilians, has unleashed a large-scale economic depression, fuel shortage, and food crisis.
Meanwhile, the Netherlands resumed its support for the White Helmets during the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, claiming to use the group to provide humanitarian assistance to insurgent-held territory in Syria.
Western governments have been able to continue funding the White Helmets without a hitch, largely because a compliant corporate media has almost without exception refused to acknowledge anything negative about the proxy group.
These Dutch media reports on Mayday’s corruption have received next to no attention in other countries. This can partially be explained because James Le Mesurier had forged many friendships within the Western press, cultivating journalists as assets in the dirty war by feeding them scoops and even facilitating propaganda trips into Syria across Turkey’s southern border.
The BBC – which The Grayzone exposed for covertly participating in UK Foreign Office information warfare campaigns – even created an error-filled, hagiographic podcast series dedicated to rewriting the history of the dirty war on Syria, sanctifying Le Mesurier, and rehabilitating the image of Mayday. Its subtle title? Mayday.
And Mayday is not the only Western government contractor exposed for corruption.
Another regime-change lobby group called the Commission for International Justice and Accountability (CIJA) received an estimated €42 million ($50 million) in funding from the United States and Western European nations to wage legal warfare, or lawfare, on Syria – and collaborated with al-Qaeda in the process.
CIJA, too, was investigated for large-scale fraud. As The Grayzone reported, the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) formally accused CIJA of fraud, “submission of false documents, irregular invoicing, and profiteering.” The EU regulator even recommended that legal authorities in the UK, the Netherlands, and Belgium prosecute CIJA.
.@CIJAOnline, a taxpayer-funded outfit that collaborated with al-Qaeda, lied to entrap a British academic in a sting operation.
CIJA's goal was to discredit critics of the dirty war on Syria – and cover up an EU investigation exposing its corruption. https://t.co/etOI6DrLCu
— The Grayzone (@TheGrayzoneNews) March 27, 2021
But CIJA’s corruption was wholly ignored in corporate media as well. Le Mesurier’s friends and colleagues went to great lengths to depict the thoroughly documented fraud scandal as a malign campaign of disinformation supposedly run out of the Kremlin.
Western governments and their stenographers in the press have helped shield war profiteers from any consequences, as they have defrauded taxpayers in numerous countries out of huge sums of money, all in a desperate crusade to destroy Syria.
Today, a stunning array of mind-blowing scandals involving the dirty war on Syria remain either untouched or covered up by Western corporate media, from the White Helmets’ role in staging false chemical attacks to Western governments silencing and punishing scientific whistleblowers at the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
Beneath the surface of the corruption scandal involving Mayday and the White Helmets is a seemingly bottomless pit of bloodshed and sleaze.
Featured image: White Helmets cheering with armed Salafi-jihadist militants that just overtook Idlib, Syria
Benjamin Norton is the founder and editor of the independent news website Multipolarista, where he does original reporting in both English and Spanish. Benjamin has reported from numerous countries, including Venezuela, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Ecuador, Honduras, Colombia, and more. His journalistic work has been published in dozens of media outlets, and he has done interviews on Sky News, Al Jazeera, Democracy Now, El Financiero Bloomberg, Al Mayadeen teleSUR, RT, TRT World, CGTN, Press TV, HispanTV, Sin Censura, and various TV channels in Mexico, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Bolivia. Benjamin writes a regular column for Al Mayadeen (in English and Spanish). He was formerly a reporter with the investigative journalism website The Grayzone, and previously produced the political podcast and video show Moderate Rebels. His personal website is BenNorton.com, and he tweets at @BenjaminNorton.
Benjamin Norton#molongui-disabled-linkSeptember 30, 2022