kit klarenberg, obviously not sacked from, as his enemies in bellingcat alleged

The MSM can try rewriting the dubious history of White Helmets’ founder James Le Mesurier, but the truth is there for all to see
Kit Klarenberg,, Oct 30 2020

James Le Mesurier. Photo: AP

A fetishistic Guardian article seeks to rehabilitate the life and death of the former British soldier turned ‘humanitarian’, but cannot explain away his lavish lifestyle, missing money, and all the other financial irregularities. On the morning of Nov 11 2019, James Le Mesurier, founder of Syria’s controversial White Helmets, was found dead in Istanbul. Since then, the Western establishment has struggled to get its story straight on the man, his professional history, the group he founded, and how he died. The latest example of mainstream media narrative management in the ever-mysterious case came in the Guardian on Oct 27, in the form of a 6k-word hagiography of Le Mesurier, authored by its veteran Middle East reporter Martin Chulov. Many at this point will be familiar with the idolatrous portait it paints of its subject: a heroic humanitarian committed to benevolent causes who saved untold lives, tragically driven to suicide by “disinformation campaign led by Russian and Syrian officials and peddled by pro-Assad bloggers, alt-right media figures and self-described anti-imperialists.” Nonetheless, it marks the first time the significant controversy surrounding his financial dealings has ever been explored, let alone mentioned, by a British news outlet.

In July this year, the Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant published a long-read of its own, explosively revealing how, three days prior to his death, Le Mesurier ‘confessed’ via email to the White Helmets’ many international donors, who’d funded the group to the tune of hundreds of millions over the years, that he’d committed fraud. The disclosure was prompted by an internal audit by a Dutch accountant of the finances of Mayday, the foundation started by Le Mesurier to find, train, and support the White Helmets. The audit found, among other things, that he had been paying himself and his wife, long-time UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) operative Emma Winberg, “excessive” salaries and supplementing the totals with unjustifiably vast cash bonuses; that his employment of his wife represented a potential conflict of interest; and that he might be guilty of tax evasion. While claiming this malfeasance wasn’t intentional, Le Mesurier took full and sole responsibility, and expressed fears that further investigation could expose yet more “mistakes and internal failures.” Damning stuff indeed, but De Volkskrant’s seismic disclosures have been curiously ignored by all other Western media outlets until now.

The Guardian’s article deals with the damning revelations, both directly and indirectly: Le Mesurier, whom Chulov knew personally, and with whom he clearly maintained an intense affinity, is acquitted on all charges. Indeed, the White Helmets founder is said to have simply “unravelled under the weight of claims that would later prove to be false.” The author is at pains throughout to frame “disinformation” as fundamental to Le Mesurier’s untimely demise, in terms of causing him immense “stress,” which led to him “disintegrating” mentally, damaging his reputation and that of the White Helmets in the eyes of world opinion, and, in turn, stoking erroneous suspicions in donor countries that he and his company were engaged in various improper activities. The question of how a battle-hardened military veteran could be so deleteriously impacted mentally and emotionally by “attacks on Russian television and social media,” particularly if they were entirely without substance, is unasked and unanswered. There’s little doubt Le Mesurier wasn’t in a good state during his final weeks. It’s been widely reported he was taking sleeping pills and psychiatric medication. Less well amplified were Turkish news reports alleging he and his wife had “fought violently” while dining out together the day before his death.

Chulov alleges “a distressed Le Mesurier” told friends just before he died that claims of Mayday’s monetary misconduct “seemed to come from nowhere.” In fact, questions about what purpose the vast sums donated to the company were put to, and where they all ultimately ended up, had long circulated. While his article states that donor countries maintained their support for the White Helmets “despite the disinformation surrounding the group’s work,” this isn’t true. In September 2018, the Dutch government ended its backing, after a damning Ministry of Foreign Affairs report outlined serious concerns about Mayday’s financial practices, including an almost total lack of oversight over, and even awareness of, how its money entered Syria, and precisely whose pockets it eventually lined. However, Chulov feels confident dismissing any and all suggestions of embezzlement, for he’s in possession of a report by forensic auditors Grant Thornton, conducted at the request of Mayday’s donors, which concluded there was “no evidence of misappropriation of funds” by Le Mesurier and Winberg. Except that he isn’t, because it hasn’t been made public, at donors’ express request. Instead, he relies on the claims of a nameless “source familiar” with the report, which could conceivably, of course, be Winberg herself.

It’s clear Grant Thornton’s report isn’t an unalloyed clean bill of health, either; the auditors found “significant gaps in the administrative organization and internal control environment of Mayday” and “identified significant cash transactions that have not been (fully) recorded in the cash books and/or general ledger.” Moreover, due to Mayday’s “informal” working environment, many key discussions took place “orally and over WhatsApp,” meaning auditors “had to reconstruct a number of financial events and are unable to provide certainty in those cases.” Chulov is quick to dismiss the significance of these failings as nothing more than “shoddy” bookkeeping, contending “auditors found nothing to support the far more serious allegations made” against Le Mesurier, despite apparently not having actually read the report himself. Likewise, he concedes Mayday’s executive salaries had been “higher than industry standards,” although his anonymous source familiar with the report is on hand to reassure him, and readers, “they were not off-the-scale high.” In 2017, Le Mesurier informed the Netherlands’ Ministry of Foreign Affairs he was paying himself a salary of €24k/month, before bonuses, several orders of magnitude higher than the designated salary ceiling at other Dutch government-funded enterprises. And considerably more than the $150 a day the White Helmet rescuers on the ground received.

References to Le Mesurier founding three separate companies named ‘Mayday Rescue’ (Mayday Rescue FZ-LLC in Dubai, Mayday Search and Rescue Training and Consultancy Services Ltd in Turkey, and Stichting Mayday Rescue Foundation in the Netherland) are predictably absent from the Guardian’s article. Accounts aren’t publicly available for any of them. The Dutch entity, while not registered as a charitable organisation, is characterised as being ‘without commercial enterprise,’ so doesn’t have to file accounts at all. Dutch ‘stichtings’ or foundations are openly advertised by Dutch law firms as ideal ways for wealthy individuals and corporations to minimize tax liabilities and distribute funds internationally. The company nonetheless complied with governance and transparency requirements, appointing a Secretary and Treasurer. As such, the UK government could plausibly claim that Mayday Rescue, to which London funneled £43m between 2015 and 2018, was, to the best of its knowledge, fully above board. Except the £43m actually went to Mayday Rescue FZ-LLC in Dubai, something only begrudgingly admitted by the FCO in Mar 2019, in response to a Freedom of Information request, after much heel-dragging and obfuscation.

Dubai is a notorious tax haven, and FZ-LLCs (Free Zone Limited Liability Companies) aren’t subject to any taxes on dividends, so they can be used to easily and opaquely repatriate profits. The entities are required to maintain accounting records, which can be inspected by authorities, but aren’t required to file accounts of any kind. It may be significant that one of Stichting Mayday Rescue Foundation’s three directors, alongside Le Mesurier and Winberg, was a British Army veteran, Rupert Davis, who, in Apr 2016 founded the company Chameleon Global. Dissolved in Oct 2020, it was categorised as dormant, that is non-operational, for the duration of its existence. Despite this apparent inactivity, it was linked to two entities implicated in the Panama Papers leaks, including a firm founded by Mossack Fonseca & Co, which, until its role in global tax evasion was exposed in 2016, had been the world’s fourth-largest provider of offshore financial services. Davis was also, until Apr 2019, connected to Sisu Global BV, a company in the Netherlands founded by Le Mesurier in Apr 2017. It has never filed accounts, in breach of Dutch law. Le Mesurier himself resigned from it in November 2018. Winberg apparently remains a director.

Chulov also, again predictably, dismisses as “disinformation” allegations that the White Helmets were “created by governments determined to remove Assad from power”; that Le Mesurier was “an agent of western intelligence, using a rescue organisation as a Trojan horse for regime change”; and that the organization was in any way affiliated to violent extremist groups. What are matters of public record, however, is that the White Helmets were funded by the very governments avowedly committed to ‘regime change’ in Syria via covert and overt means; that Le Mesurier’s professional history included spells as a military intelligence operative; and that the group has openly collaborated with the Al-Nusra Front, among other jihadi elements, and engaged in violent activity. In a Jun 2015 speech discussing his founding of the White Helmets, Le Mesurier cited a market research agency study which found that, in fragile environments, security forces garner low levels of public trust while first responders have the highest as a key motivating factor in his decision to establish a “humanitarian aid group.”

That the White Helmets’ benevolent image was very carefully constructed and promoted by a government attempting to achieve ‘regime change’ is amply underlined by FCO documents leaked by hacktivist collective Anonymous. The documents reveal that ARK, a firm founded by FCO veteran Alistair Harris where Le Mesurier worked between 2011 and 2014, played a pivotal role in promoting the White Helmets, developing “an internationally focused communications campaign to raise global awareness” of the group to “keep Syria in the news.” Along the way, ARK, among many other endeavors, produced a documentary on the White Helmets, and ran its various social media accounts, among them the Facebook page for Idlib City Council, at one time mooted as a potential interim government to replace Bashar Assad. When Al-Nusra took the city, the White Helmets were filmed celebrating the ‘victory’ with the group’s fighters in its main square. ARK profited to the tune of untold millions of pounds from these and other information-warfare efforts. The same illicit file tranche also reveals InCoStrat, founded by none other than Emma Winberg, also reaped large bounties for manipulating public perceptions about Syria, within and without the country. In one file, the firm boasted of surreptitiously “initiating events to create media effect” and of “using media to create events.” One example of the former strategy saw InCoStrat produce mock Syrian currency, in three denominations, imploring Syrians to “be on the right side of history.” It was intended to ensure that international opinion remained arrayed against Assad, at a time “media attention has shifted almost exclusively towards ISIS and some influential voices are calling for co-operation with the Syrian regime to combat ISIS.” The file states:

The notes are due to be smuggled into regime-held parts of Syria once formal clearance has been authorized by HMG officials … We will engage the international media to create a story around the event … The message to the regime [is] covert but active resistance continues.

Another document indicates that Winberg’s InCoStrat also established Basma, “a media platform providing human interest stories and campaigns that support UK policy objectives,” and engaged in propaganda operations in the wake of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, training and maintaining a network of journalists who were “instrumental in reporting on events in Basra.” On the subject of propaganda, establishment efforts to rehabilitate Le Mesurier are scheduled to continue apace in future. Starting on Nov 9, the BBC will transmit a 15-part radio documentary on Mayday Rescue. Over the summer, Chloe Hadjimatheou, a reporter on the project, approached a number of journalists and researchers who’d publicly raised questions about the White Helmets, asking if they wished to contribute to the program. Several of the individuals targeted subsequently published their correspondence with Hadjimatheou, showing that the program’s preordained agenda and objectives couldn’t be more blatant. What is clear is that any suggestion Le Mesurier was a British intelligence operative surreptitiously attempting to foster regime change in Syria, or that the White Helmets weren’t an entirely benevolent, independent humanitarian organization will be rubbished, and all voices critical of the group will be smeared as witting or unwitting agents of the Russian and Syrian governments.

‘Rather than catch my son’s killers, the police spied on us. People of colour don’t get justice. Cops don’t think we deserve it.’
Kit Klarenberg,, Oct 30 2020

On Oct 15 1997, 20-year-old Ricky Reel was enjoying a night out with friends in south-west London’s Kingston upon Thames, when a group of youths descended upon them, shouting “Pakis go home.” They ran off in different directions, their attackers in hot pursuit. Ricky’s friends managed to make it home safely in the end, but he was never seen alive again. Recalling the dark, hopeless days that followed remains a painful experience for his mother Sukhdev today, and there are frequent pauses mid-conversation to wipe away figurative and literal tears. She recalls police investigators stubbornly suggesting Ricky wasn’t in danger, let alone dead, instead intimating that he’d simply run away from home. They even asked whether his parents had been trying to impose an arranged marriage on him. Another officer suggested to Ricky’s father with a wink that his son might be gay. Sukhdev recalls:

We’d no choice but to do all the searches for him ourselves all day every day, returning home at two, three in the morning. Despite constantly appealing for officers to comb the Thames river, they never did. They searched our home several times though, every area, claiming they thought he might be there somewhere. They assumed we might have injured him and were hiding him in there. We became so frustrated. During the search, they took my husband out to check the garage while I remained in the house with other officers, and pointed out to one of them they’d missed our attic and asked whether he wanted to look in there.

Official intransigence and insensitivity endured even when, an excruciating week later, Ricky’s body was found floating in the Thames. Sukhdev says the immediate reaction of the sole officer present that fateful day was to announce that his death was clearly an accident, and demand his body be removed from the scene without delay. “How could he know without conducting an investigation?!” she asks furiously. From day one, police maintained Ricky simply fell and drowned while drunkenly urinating, and that there’d been no violent or racial factor in his death of any kind whatsoever. Their explanation was believed by few, least of all his family. With the support of friends and members of the public, they established a justice campaign, seeking to uncover precisely what happened that night, and to expose institutionalised racism within the Metropolitan Police. The campaign quickly gained prominence, thanks in part to backing from the family of Stephen Lawrence, likewise fighting for justice for their son who had been murdered by racists in 1993.

In 1999, the Reels’ efforts bore significant fruit. The then-Police Complaints Authority began probing police handling of the case, which concluded there’d been “weaknesses and flaws” in the approach of the investigators, singling out three separate officers for neglect of duty. The Authority also discovered that CCTV footage of the area Ricky and friends were accosted had been deleted, that Ricky’s friends weren’t shown pictures of local racists to determine if any were present that night, and that no forensic analysis had been conducted in the area investigators alleged Ricky fell into the river. Later that year, an inquest into his death recorded an open verdict, despite police denials of foul play being involved, the Reel family’s lawyer, Michael Mansfield QC, presented evidence Ricky had fallen into the river backwards, with bruises on his back indicating a recently-incurred beating. Months subsequently, Sukhdev shockingly received a call from a journalist who informed her they’d been passed post-mortem photographs of Ricky, and had been pushed to publish them by the chief investigating officer into his death, who’d resigned not long after the inquest concluded. Sukhdev said:

They said the pictures were awful, that his skin had been taken off in places. I’m not sure why, but I know exactly why the officer didn’t ask me whether I wanted them published. Which mother would ever give permission for that? When the reporter told me about the photographs, I tried to jump out of the window. I didn’t want to live. I didn’t want to see them myself, let alone the entire world. I feel so sick talking about it, they even tried to tarnish my Ricky’s image. I still don’t understand why he had the photos, which were part of the investigation, in his home.

As of Oct 2020, not a single officer involved in the investigation of Ricky Reel’s death has faced disciplinary action, and no arrests have ever been made. But there was also something more pernicious and insidious going on, something the Reels would not know about until some 17 years after Ricky’s death. Because the Reels had failed to agree with the Metropolitan Police’s verdict on Ricky’s death, and were campaigning actively against it, at some point senior officers decided to secretly put them under surveillance. Undercover officers joined their campaign, pretending to be supporters, all the while looking for and recording any information that could be used to undermine the family and their campaign. It was a spying operation the Met used against many others, including the Lawrences.

Sukhdev only learned about it when, in 2014, her local MP, John McDonnell, was contacted by the police, seeking a meeting with him, the Reels and Suresh Grover, an adviser to the family’s ongoing justice campaign. The attendees were summarily informed they’d been subject to covert police monitoring, their words and actions recorded by malign forces without their knowledge or consent. Later, Sukhdev and her daughter were told they were now “core participants,” she says in the ongoing Undercover Policing Inquiry (UCPI), established by then-Home Sec Theresa May in Mar 2015 to investigate numerous controversies surrounding the British state’s use of clandestine operatives. Despite the inquiry having spent five-and-a-half years and millions of pounds investigating, it has to date achieved little for the innumerable victims of police spying in the UK, and has refused to reveal much information of significance. It will at long last begin hearing evidence in public next week.

Officials have sought to characterise this surveillance of the Reels (and, indeed, others) as “collateral intrusion,” inadvertent intelligence-gathering by officers investigating individuals involved in the family’s campaign, rather than direct and deliberate targeting of Sukhdev et al. It’s an explanation she strongly rejects, scepticism easily understood when one considers that by the inquiry’s own reckoning, undercover police have infiltrated at least 18 family justice campaigns over the years. In 2015, Sukhdev was invited by Scotland Yard to view reports that undercover officers compiled on her family. Initially grateful, whatever hopes she had quickly evaporated when officers presented her with pages consisting of little but blacked-out lines. Almost all the information had been redacted, so that burning questions such as who spied on her and her family, why, what sensitive personal information was collected in the process, and the impact of the spying on the investigation into Ricky’s death, were unanswerable as a result, she says, “like a sick joke.” She maintains:

The spying was no accident. They were frightened. Our campaign was getting big. Plainclothes officers pretending to be supporters violated our privacy, attended our public meetings, entered our home, more probably. We thought they were our friends and supporters, but really they were trying to undermine us from the inside. After so long, we’re still waiting for answers, still waiting for an apology.

Former undercover officer Peter Francis, who under the pseudonym ‘Pete Black’ infiltrated 12 separate justice campaigns between 1993 and 1997, has claimed part of his mission when spying on Stephen Lawrence’s family was to find incriminating information on them and their justice campaign, and publicly discredit them in the process. He hasalleged:

Had I found anything detrimental, the police using the media would’ve used that information to smear the family. My superiors were after any intelligence of that order. That was made clear to me. The Lawrences weren’t unique in this. I suggest journalists read some of the information leaked to the press at the time about these campaigns and seriously question where they came from and why.

In 2018, it was confirmed that Francis was just one of several other undercover officers who infiltrated the Lawrence justice campaign, including ‘David Hagan,’ who gathered personal details about Stephen’s parents Doreen and Neville, including intimate information about the state of their marriage. Hagan was also one of the officers who spied on the Reel family. Sukhdev, understandably, remains outraged at the gross and egregious violation of her family’s privacy:

We weren’t involved in any criminal activity, anything which warranted being surveilled. We wanted accountability and justice for my Ricky. We were demanding the police carry out a proper investigation. They said they didn’t have the resources to carry out further inquiries, but they clearly had the resources to spy on us. They didn’t care about my son or catching his killers, they were only interested in what we and our campaign were doing.

Like many other UCPI core participants, Sukhdev has little hope that the inquiry will deliver the truth, let alone reconciliation, she deserves. Since its founding, she’s received some internal police documents under privilege, but is prevented from discussing the contents, even with her husband, let alone publicising them. While UCPI chair John Mitting has released the cover names of some undercover officers, their real names and photos have invariably not been disclosed, on the grounds that doing so might put them at risk of reprisal. Sukhdev finds this justification inexplicable and deplorable. She’s known the real name of ‘David Hagan’ for some time, and has done nothing to hurt him in any way, let alone leaked it to the public. Furious that the rights of police spies are being prioritised over their victims. She says bitterly:

What does he think we’re going to do? My Ricky was murdered. I need to know how, why and by whom. Racism played a big part in his death, the investigation, the spying. The word racism doesn’t leave us alone. People of colour don’t get justice, because in the eyes of the police, they don’t deserve justice. That’s my conclusion based on how I’ve been treated since the day my son went missing. If he’d have been a white boy, things would’ve been very different. I need to be able to mentally place where I met the people who spied on me, know what events they attended, when they were in my house, whether they watched and reported on my children. That frightens me. When I go out, or go to sleep, I feel eyes staring at me everywhere.

Sukhdev refuses to give up her fight for justice. The Reels will next week launch a petition alongside the launch of the UCPI, which will be supported by a number of people, including former shadow chancellor John McDonnell. It calls for police to reopen lines of inquiry into Ricky’s case, such as reviewing forensic evidence using techniques that weren’t available 23 years ago.

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