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'Three Cups' author Greg Mortenson must pay $1 million to charity

April 05, 2012|By Matt Pearce

The last question is one that has struck a nerve in popular debate lately, particularly among liberals. In a widely shared article for the Atlantic, novelist Teju Cole decried the “White Savior Industrial Complex” that he said “exists simply to satisfy the needs — including, importantly, the sentimental needs — of white people and Oprah.”

“If Americans want to care about Africa, maybe they should consider evaluating American foreign policy, which they already play a direct role in through elections, before they impose themselves on Africa itself,” Cole wrote. He added later: “If we are going to interfere in the lives of others, a little due diligence is a minimum requirement.”

Invisible Children’s “Kony 2012,” which called for the U.S. to help arm Ugandan forces to “stop Joseph Kony,” was met with confusion and even anger in Uganda, which Kony fled six years ago. (Invisible Children released a second video Thursday largely defending the previous video.) And Mortenson’s Central Asia Institute has been accused of claiming to build schools that either weren’t needed — half of the 30 schools visited by "60 Minutes" were empty — or don’t exist.

“So how many schools has CAI [Central Asia Institute] actually built in Pakistan and Afghanistan?” Krakauer wrote last September. “Nobody knows. Not even Mortenson knows, because over the past eight or nine years he’s repeatedly thwarted efforts by his Montana-based staff to track how many schools have been built, how much each school really costs, and how many schools are functional.”

The Montana investigation released Thursday focused on the Central Asia Institute’s domestic operations in Montana and found that its board “failed to fulfill some of its important responsibilities in governing the nonprofit charity."

Mortenson, for example, was “double-dipping,” investigators said, taking travel expenses from his charity and from event sponsors around the country who thought they were paying his way. A 2003 audit also turned up problems with the charity’s finances that led the board not to fix the problems but to cancel further audits, the report said. Those same problems cropped up when audits were conducted again in 2009 and 2010.

But damning the charity itself can be problematic, as the Montana attorney general’s office found while investigating Mortenson’s fellow board members, who it said had failed since 2004 to take proper care of the charity under Montana law.

“The altruistic motives and sincere commitment to CAI’s mission by each person who has served on CAI’s board cannot be doubted,” the report said. “It was evident when they were interviewed that they each believe deeply in the charity’s mission, and want it to succeed.”

So does the Montana attorney general, Bullock, who wrote in the report that “despite the severity of their errors, CAI is worth saving.”

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Twitter.com/mattdpearce

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