FEMA promotes Pat Robertson’s charity —despite Congo diamond scandal

Juan Gonzalez of the NY Daily News Sept. 6 calls out FEMA for promoting the newsworthy Rev. Pat Robertson’s private charity for Katrina disaster-relief donations—and recalls the group’s links to the sleazy African diamonds trade, unearthed by a law enforcement investigation a few years back…

Disaster used as political payoff

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has done it again.

Already under fire for its woeful response to Hurricane Katrina, the federal disaster agency appears to have turned hurricane relief donations into a political payoff – until it was challenged.

All last week, FEMA bureaucrats gave prominent placement on the agency’s Web site to Operation Blessing, the Virginia-based charity run by controversial right-wing evangelist and Christian Coalition founder Pat Robertson.

For anyone wishing to donate only cash, the agency’s site listed the names and phone numbers of three groups: the Red Cross, Operation Blessing and America’s Second Harvest, a national coalition of food banks.

That first list was followed by a second, longer list of several dozen religious and nonsectarian charities. This second list was for anyone who wanted to give either cash or noncash gifts.

Just as in an ordinary election, however, top ballot position makes it far more likely you’ll get noticed and chosen.

The same FEMA list was then disseminated by state and local governments throughout the country. Both Gov. Pataki and Mayor Bloomberg, for example, placed the same top three FEMA charities on their Hurricane Katrina press releases and Web sites last week.

Those familiar with Robertson and his charity were flabbergasted.

Operation Blessing, with a budget of $190 million, is an integral part of the Robertson empire. Not only is he the chairman of the board, his wife is listed on its latest financial report as its vice president, and one of his sons is on the board of directors.

Back in 1994, during the infamous Rwandan genocide, Robertson used his 700 Club’s daily cable operation to appeal to the American public for donations to fly humanitarian supplies into Zaire to save the Rwandan refugees.

The planes purchased by Operation Blessing did a lot more than ferry relief supplies.

An investigation conducted by the Virginia attorney general’s office concluded in 1999 that the planes were mostly used to transport mining equipment for a diamond operation run by a for-profit company called African Development Corp.

And who do you think was the principal executive and sole shareholder of the mining company?

You guessed it, Pat Robertson himself.

Robertson had landed the mining concession from his longtime friend Mobutu Sese Seko, then the dictator of Zaire.

Investigators concluded that Operation Blessing “willfully induced contributions from the public through the use of misleading statements …”

After the investigation began, Robertson placated state regulators by personally reimbursing his own charity $400,000 and by agreeing to tighten its bookkeeping methods.

Separating Operation Blessing from Robertson’s many politically oriented endeavors is not that easy, however.

The biggest single U.S. recipient of the charity’s largess, according to its latest financial report, was Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network. It received $885,000 in the fiscal year ended March 2004.

Robertson uses that Christian network for some markedly unchristian purposes.

A few years back, he repeatedly defended Charles Taylor, the former brutal dictator of Liberia who is under indictment by a UN tribunal for war crimes.

As with Mobutu in the Congo, Robertson had a personal stake in the matter: He had millions invested in a Liberian gold mine, thanks to Taylor, according to press reports.

Recently, Robertson called for the assassination of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Those who know Robertson’s record raised such an uproar that on Sunday FEMA suddenly rearranged its entire Web site for hurricane donations.

Gone was Operation Blessing’s name and choice location. Replacing it was an alphabetical list of nearly 50 national relief organizations.

At FEMA, they take a while to get things right.

See our last post on Katrina’s aftermath, Rev. Robertson, and the Congo war.