1/18/10, 4:47 pm EST
Wyclef Jean addressed accusations against his Yele Haiti organization for the second time in as many days, delivering prepared remarks to a roomful of reporters at Manhattan’s Sheraton Hotel this afternoon.
The former Fugee has battled allegations that his foundation played loose with its bookkeeping by directing monies toward Wyclef’s pockets instead of charitable efforts. The charges arise as the Haitian-born musician has mounted relief efforts in the wake of last week’s devastating earthquake that struck the tiny country. Yele Haiti has raised over $2 million, according to reports, but the goodwill was brought to an abrupt stop when TheSmokingGun.com unearthed documents claiming that the 12-year-old incorporated company only recently filed tax returns, for the years 2005, 2006 and 2007.
Wclef emphatically denied any malicious wrongdoing, stating he had not profited as a result of his efforts. “Did we make mistakes, yes,” Clef said, after the president of Yele Haiti briefed the audience first citing that the group was founded in 2005, not earlier as reported. “Did I ever use any of Yele’s money for personal benefit, no. Yele’s books are open and transparent, and we have been a clean bill of health by an external auditor every year since we started.”
The Carnival star explained that he started Yele Haiti out of his own pocket. But since the group began they have had a notable impact in Haiti, with an emphasis on arts, education, sports and the environment. Yele Haiti’s president Huge Locke, told the gathered group, which included Russell Simmons and Andre Harrell, that the charitable endeavor has helped to assist over 27,000 students with scholarships and tuition aid.
Over the weekend, Wyclef first took to YouTube to address the Smoking Gun’s allegations. “After digging kids up and putting them, finding cemeteries for them and the mud being over flooded, this is what I come back to,” he said. “An attack on my integrity and my foundation.”
Wyclef entered the press conference — held on the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday — sporting a dark suit, blue dress shirt and striped tie. The toll of spending three days in Haiti seemed to be catching up to him. At one point he spoke directly to the cameras as he delivered remarks to Haiti in the country’s native tongue. Tears streamed down both sides of Wyclef’s cheeks as he spoke and a weariness set in around his darkened, red eyes. A loose translation of his speech relayed throughout the room explained his tears were not for him, but rather for the people of his country. Earlier Wyclef flashed his permanent green card and Haitian passport to illustrate how connected he still is to his country of birth.
After Wyclef’s remarks, he left and Locke took questions from the press, tackling inquiries about the Smoking Gun’s report head on, specifically the payouts from Yele Haiti to Wyclef’s for-profit companies, a recording studio in New York ($100,000) and a production company in Haiti ($250,000). (Currently, Locke said, the foundation has not spent any of the recently donated funds as they’ve been overwhelmed by the volume of the contributions.)
Wyclef is scheduled to participate in a televised telethon this Friday with George Clooney and CNN’s Anderson Cooper. After the event, he said, he plans to return back to Haiti on Saturday. He, along with his wife and his cousin Jerry “Wonder” Duplessis almost immediately ventured to Haiti in the aftermath of the earthquake. He called on the next phase of aid to the country to come in the form of providing security and safety as riots have begun to break out.
“When I was in Haiti I was working with the Yele team on the ground to greatly expand our numbers so that we will be able to provide security for relief trucks after they leave the airport compound and are going to vary distribution sites or warehouse facilities,” he said.