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Red Cross admits artists' cash not used as intended

By Zha Minjie (Shanghai Daily)

10:11, May 02, 2013

The Red Cross Society of China has admitted that a donation of 84.7 million yuan (US$13.7 million) it received from more than 100 artists after the Sichuan earthquake in 2008 was not used as the donors had intended.

China's largest charity organization has apologized for a lack of communication but insisted that the money was spent on another charity project, which was "generally in accordance with the donors' will."

The society said the money was used for a "philanthropic home" project, which has financed 242 urban and rural neighborhood communities in Sichuan, Shaanxi and Gansu provinces to promote community management and improve infrastructure and disaster prevention capabilities as well as public health efforts.

The money was raised at a charity auction on May 29, 2008, 17 days after the devastating 8.0-magnitude quake in southwest China's Sichuan Province which left around 87,000 people dead or missing. The artists wanted the money to be used in the city of Qingchengshan in Sichuan.

However, late last month artist Fang Lijun claimed on his Weibo microblog that the money had simply "disappeared."

His comments were echoed by other artists who took part in the auction.

According to the Red Cross, a total of 103 artworks were sold at the auction, and the donors had said they wanted the money to be used in reconstruction projects in Qingchengshan.

But that didn't come about and the Red Cross reallocated the money to the new "philanthropic home" project which was launched in January, 2011.

The Red Cross said that 242 communities had benefited to the tune of 350,000 yuan each on average.

But it just specified the number of communities, not their names or a detailed explanation of what the money was used for. "Just give us one simple sheet to explain all the 80 million yuan," was one online comment.

Another said the Red Cross should make public who was supervising the project.

Fang reposted that statement on his microblog.

The charity faced resistance from the public when it appealed for donations following the Ya'an earthquake in Sichuan on April 20, with many people saying they would not donate to the organization but would rather "bring the money to the earthquake victims in person."

The charity's credibility crisis stems from 2011 when Guo Meimei, claiming to be a Red Cross manager, flaunted her lavish lifestyle online, sparking a public outcry and questions over how donations were being handled. The Red Cross was exonerated but, faced with continuing public pressure over the case, recently said it would reopen an investigation into it.

Guo's name was brought up again in relation to the "philanthropic home" project, but the Guo involved in the project was a different person and no relation, the Red Cross said.

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