At The Hand Of Man - The White Man's Game

At The Hand Of Man - The White Man's Game 


Raymond Bonner 


Prince Bernhard and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) 


The White Man's Game pp. 66-71 

To attract donors, large and small, as well as media attention, Nicholson, Scott and the founding fathers of WWF wanted the royal family to lend their name. They approached Prince Philip to be president. Philip was an avid outdoorsman and hunter-in January 1961 he had bagged a Bengal tiger in India-and he and Queen Elizabeth had been to Kenya, on a safari best remembered because King George VI died while they were watching wild animals and Princess Elizabeth had become Queen. Scott sent Philip a draft of the proposed charter. Philip read it carefully, replying that one provision was "unctuous," and another "to wordy." This careful reading was not what Scott hold expected. It is "a great bore that he suggests so much alteration," Scott wrote Nicholson. The founding fathers had wanted the Prince only as a figurehead. Philip agreed to head up the British chapter of WWF, but he turned down the presidency of the International and suggested his friend Prince Bernhard for the post. The men were alike in many ways. Both had been born into European royal families, but not very distinguished ones, and had acquired their status and string of titles when they married-Bernhard to the future Queen Juliana of the Netherlands. The two men were handsome, dashing, and staunchly conservative politically. 

Scott, who liked consorting with royalty, made the pitch. "Prince Philip (who was sailing with me at Cowes in the 12 metre 'sceptre' on Saturday) . . . told me that he was very keen that you should 'head-up' the international Trustees," Scott wrote to Bernhard. "Please may I ask Your Royal Highness to say that you will be President of the Trustees of The World Wildlife Fund.'' Prince Bernhard he eventually said yes, and he served as president until 1976, when he was forced to resign after it became public that he had solicited more than a million dollars in 'commissions" from Lockheed in exchange for Lockheed's receiving contracts to build warplanes for the Netherlands. (At One point after the scandal broke, Bernhard said that he had intended to give the money from Lockheed to WWF; a member of the board at the time insists this is not true. 

Bernhard remained active behind the scenes in WWF, but a couple of years after he resigned, Philip became president of the International, and though it was thought he would serve for only a few years, he is still in power. The Prince is a committed conservationist and he undoubtedly has given prestige and visibility to WWF around the world. At the same time, however, many in the Third World have questioned whether he is the right person to head an organisation that does most of its work in developing countries. At a meeting of the Commonwealth Heads of state, most of them from the Third World and black, Philip said to an aide, "You wouldn't think the peace of the world rested on this lot, would you'?" on another occasion, he referred to the Chinese as "slitty-eyed." 

WWF WAS SET UP to raise money, but in spite of the initial successes, it did not prove very effective. Nicholson had said that $1.5 million each year would be needed for conservation, which Scott thought he could easily raise; indeed, he anticipated coaxing $25 million from the rich. Scott discovered that socializing with the elite was one thing, getting them to part with their money quite another, and it was several years before the total of WWF's revenues reached $1 million. 

WWF's financial fortunes began to change dramatically after a hard-driving South African businessman, Anton Rupert, joined the board. An Afrikaaner from the Cape, Rupert had already made millions as the owner of Rothmans International tobacco company, the foundation of the Rembrandt Group, his wholly owned business empire. When Rupert expanded beyond South Africa, he bought Dunhill and Cartier, and eventually he became one of the richest men in South Africa, rivalled only by Harry Oppenheimer, the gold and diamond industrialist. Rupert had long been interested in conservation, including the restoration of historic buildings, and in 1968 he joined the WWF board of trustees; he stayed on the board for twenty-two years, ill spite of a provision in the organisation's original incorporation documents that limited members to two three-year terms, a provision that was routinely ignored for the benefit of several other influential members of the board as well. Rupert brought a considerable amount of his own money to WWF, but, more important, he conceived a plan that would raise millions 

Rupert's idea was the "1001 Club" The "one" was Prince Bernhard The other one thousand were wealthy individuals who could be persuaded to part with $10,000. The one-time donation brings lifetime membership, and the names of the generous patrons are kept secret by the organisation. According to these secret lists, American givers have included August A Busch, Jr, of the beer company; Henry Ford II; Peter Grace; Nelson Bunker Hunt, the silver trader; Mrs Geoffrey Kent, of Abercrombie & Kent; Robert S. McNamara; Cyril Magnin; Lew Wasserman, of MCA; Thomas Watson, of IBM. Many of the donors understandably wish to remain anonymous (in part to avoid being badgered by other charities), but it is also understandable why WWF does not want the list made public. It has included many less savoury individuals-Zaire's President Mobutu, Sese Seko, one of the most corrupt leaders in Africa; Daniel K Ludwig, the reclusive American billionaire, whose companies destroyed thousands of miles of the Amazon rain forest; Agha Hasan Abedi, the founder of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCC1); Robert Vesco, the financier who fled the United States in the 1970s to escape trial on charges of fraud, embezzlement and obstruction of justice; Tibor Rosenbaum, founder of a Swiss bank that laundered billions of dollars of organised crime money and who was accused of embezzling Israeli deposits in the bank; Thomas Jones, who was forced out as chief executive of Northrop after it was revealed that the company paid $30 million in bribes to government officials and agents around the world in exchange for contracts; Lord Kagan, a British businessman convicted of theft and conspiracy to defraud the British tax service; a Norwegian shipowner convicted of taking a £1 million bribe; an individual who was the conduit for the money from Lockheed to Prince Bernhard. 

There has been another remarkable feature about the 1001 Club-the number of South Africans. On the 1989 list, at least sixty individuals were from South Africa, including seven of Rupert's relatives. Many were also members of the Broederbond, the secret, conservative Afrikaaner society that has traditionally wielded immense political power in South Africa. Only five countries had more donors, and as a percentage of their population, South African whites had three hundred times as many members as the United States. It is easy to understand why so many South Africans have been willing to part with $10,000 to Join the 1001 and not all of it has to do with conservation. Not many international clubs welcomed white South Africans, and membership in the 1001 provided them an opportunity to mingle and do business with tycoons, as well as with Prince Philip and Prince Bernhard. What else they may have gained from the membership is unknown, in part because so much of what WWF-lnternational does is kept from the public and even from the organisation's own trustees. Because of the secrecy and closed nature of the WWF club, it is also difficult to know the extent of the influence that so much South African money has had on the organisation's conservation work. There can be little doubt, however, that WWF-International's initial opposition to the ivory ban reflected South African power on the board-South Africa was adamantly opposed to the ban, because its elephants were not being poached and it made money from selling ivory. 

One place where South Africa's clout has been felt is in the office of the director-general, the man who runs WWF. Since 1977 that man has been Charles de Haes. Much of de Haes's past is vague, which seems to be by design: he has chosen to reveal very little about his background and some of what the organisation does say publicly about him is at odds with the facts. On WWF's public list of officers and trustees, de Haes is identified as being from Belgium, and he was born there, in 1938. But as a young boy, he moved with his family to South Africa. After graduating from Cape Town University with a law degree, he got a job with Rothmans International, Rupert's tobacco company. De Haes's Official resume-that is, the one WWF distributes-makes a point of noting that he went to work for the tobacco company "although himself a nonsmoker." It then says de Haes "helped establish companies" in Sudan, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. What it does not say is that these were companies that sold cigarettes. Maybe de Haes didn't smoke, but he made money by encouraging others to do so. 

De Haes was brought to WWF through the back door by Anton Rupert in 1971. He was first assigned to be personal assistant to Prince Bernhard. One of his tasks was to implement the 1001 Club project. He was tremendously successful. Ten thousand dollars was worth even more back then, yet it took de Haes only three years to find one thousand donors. Prince Bernhard provided the letters of introduction, but de Haes was the salesman who clinched the deals. Even de Haes's fiercest critics-and they are many-use the word "brilliant" when describing his fund-raising skills. 

In 1975, with the backing of Rupert and Prince Philip de Haes was named joint director-general of WWF, and two years later he had the top position to himself. De Haes had no education or experience in conservation, other than his few years at WWF, yet he was now in charge of the most prestigious and influential conservation organisation in the world. It was a position that would have appealed to the most qualified and eminent individuals in the field, yet no effort was made to recruit any of them. 

WWF may have taken on someone without conservation experience, but then, it cost the organisation nothing: Rupert agreed to pay de Haes's salary-which, according to a British trustee, goes far in explaining why de Haes got the Job. WWF never said at the time that Rupert was paying de Haes, and it still tries to conceal this fact. The organisation's chief spokesman, Robert SanGeorge, stated emphatically during an interview in 1991 that de Haes had not been seconded from Rothmans to Prince Bernhard and WWF during the early years. But an internal WWF memorandum signed by the organisation's executive vice-president in 1975 talks specifically about "Mr. de Haes's period of secondment to WWF." What this means, of course, is that de Haes was still employed by a South African corporation while working for WWF. "I thought it was a scandal," says a former board member from North America, Who added that it was only by accident that he learned that Rupert was paying de Haes. This board member did not like the arrangement. "Who does the director general serve'? Is the interest of a South African tobacco company synonymous with the world conservation movement? Even more troubling to this director was the fact that it was kept a secret. "lf it was such a good thing, why weren't they willing to say so in the annual report?" 

In a similar vein, the organisation treats as a state secret the question of who paid de Haes after he became director-general. It was "an anonymous donor" SanGeorge says. Even board members have been in the dark. When on occasion one asked, he was told that the donor wished to remain anonymous. 

It is unlikely that any other charitable organisation that depends on public support operates with such little accountability and in such secrecy as WWF has under de Haes. It is easier to penetrate the CIA. And when WWF has been caught in embarrassing conducts it has engaged in damage control and cover-ups of the kind that might be expected from a company whose products have caused injury to consumers and the environment. Under rules de Haes promulgated, WWF employees are prohibited from talking to anyone outside the organization about anything except what the organisation has already made public; the obligation to secrecy binds the employee even after he or she has left WWF. Few are willing to break this code of silence-given their fear of de Haes and, in the case of current employees, the generous salaries and pleasant living conditions in Switzerland. 

It may well be, as one senior WWF officer put it somewhat defensively, that a dollar given to WWF is still a dollar well spent for conservation. But, as this person added, "imagine what the organisation could be with better leadership." 

Over the years there has been increasing dissatisfaction with de Haes's leadership. One of the most serious challenges to his rule came in the early 1980s, when the heads of the WWF organisations in Britain, the Netherlands and Switzerland began to discuss among themselves changes they thought were necessary in the organisation. These organisations should be able to effect change because they provide most of the funds for the International-WWF-UK alone contributes nearly one-third of the International's budget, and Switzerland and the Netherlands rank second and third. The way WWF was set up, two-thirds of the money raised by the national organisations goes to the International, while one third remains with the national organisation. The "dissident" leaders of the three national organisations objected to this because there was no accountability over how the International spent the money. They also did not like the fact that the WWF-International board of trustees doesn't represent the national organisations. The board is a self-selected body-that is, those on the board decide whom to place on it-and the national organisations, even though they give the money, have no right of representation. In short, the heads of the British, Dutch and Swiss organisations felt that too much power was concentrated in Gland-the Swiss town where WWF-lnternational's headquarters is located-and that the local organisations should have more autonomy. 

Sir Arthur Norman, the head of WWF-UK at the time, was particularly disturbed by the manner in which WWF-International set up chapters in other countries. He thought they should "be triggered off by local people, local enthusiasm, and not by someone in Bland saying "it's time". 


The White Man's Game - pp78-81 

Phillipson found that "a diligent auditor set among the project account files in Switzerland would surely open a cupboard full of skeletons." He was referring to the International's field projects—from some there were no reports at all, and many others had made no accounting of how the money was spent. Phillipson's conclusion that WWF's attitude engendered accusations of "neo-colonialism" remained in the summary. 

Occasionally other skeletons got out, and when they did, it became clear that WWF had lost its ethical way, at least in carrying out its conservation work in Africa. In the late 1980s, for example, WWF provided Zimbabwe's Department of National Parks and Wildlife Management with funds to buy a helicopter for its anti-poaching operations in the Zambezi Valley, where the black rhino was on the verge of extinction because of poachers. The department used the helicopter to deploy anti-poaching units when it received reports of poachers in an area. At least fifty-seven poachers were killed in the helicopter-supported operations, and the WWF office in Zimbabwe reported that the helicopter "has made an enormous difference to staff morale and efficiency" in the wildlife department. 

That WWF was involved was not flown publicly until the environment correspondent of the British newspaper The Guardian, Paul Brown, broke the story. WWF responded with a statement saying that it had provided the funds for the helicopter "on the strict understanding that the helicopter would never be used as a gun-ship," and that it was "official WWF policy not to use any of its funds for purchase of arms or ammunition." The truth is the organisation knew that the helicopter would be used in operations in which poachers would be killed. Indeed, there had been a long and fierce debate within WWF about the project, and many on the staff were opposed because Zimbabwe's policy was "Shoot first, ask questions later," as one of those involved in the debate puts it. Providing the helicopter "made the policy more effective," he said. As for WWF's statement that it did not provide funds for arms or ammunition, the organisation's internal documents show that it was doing precisely that for at least one project in Tanzania in 1987. 

De Haes and WWF-International had to work harder to cover up another scandal in Africa, this one involving mercenaries, intrigue, high level WWF officials and Prince Bernhard. The mercenaries were former British commandos who worked for KAS Enterprises, a company headed by Sir David Stirling, the legendary founder of Britain's Special Air Services (SAS), Britain's most elite commando force. Stirling, who died in 1990, engaged in clandestine activities throughout the world, setting up ostensibly private companies that were in fact covers for Britain's MI-5 and MI-6. In Africa s conservation wars, in the late 1980S KAS, as part of its arrangement with WWF officials, trained anti-poaching units in Namibia, which was then still under the control of South Africa, as well as Mozambicans in South Africa. (The South African government was trying to destabilise Mozambique.) KAS also set up a "sting" operation to catch traffickers in ivory and rhino horn. The project was code-named "Operation Lock," Lock being the maiden name of the wife of a former SAS officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Ian Crooke, who was in charge of it. 

Some of KAS's anti-poaching activities were exposed in July 1989 by Robert Powell, the Reuters correspondent in Nairobi. Powell, however, was unable to link WWF to the operation, and so WWF remained silent when Powell's story appeared, and continued working with KAS. But Powell's article provoked Stephen Ellis, editor of Africa Confidential, a fortnightly newsletter published in London, to probe further. Ellis, also a freelance journalist, got an assignment from The Independent to write an article about Operation Lock. In the course of his reporting he called WWF and talked with Robert SanGeorge, the organisation's chief spokesman. SanGeorge, an American, had come to WWF-International in 1940 along with his wife, a tough lawyer who became executive assistant to de Haes. Without telling Ellis, SanGeorge, who has been seen with a recording device attached to his phone, made a verbatim transcript of their conversation, which he passed on to de Haes-SanGeorge even noted when Ellis "paused to fetch a cup of coffee he had left in another room. 

A few days later, SanGeorge faxed a statement to Ellis. The statement began: "it is, and always has been, the policy of WWF not to engage in clandestine or covert operations which might be considered unethical by governments, the public, or supporters of WWF." The organisation then went on to lay the blame for the covert operation on John Hanks, head of the Africa Programme at WWF-International. It said that Hanks had initiated the project "without the knowledge or approval of WWF-lnternational's management." Six months earlier Hanks had been forced out of WWF by de Haes and had gone to South Africa as director of the Southern African Nature Foundation, the name of WWF's affiliate in South Africa. Not wanting to cross de Haes again and being loyal to WWF, Hanks signed a statement assuming responsibility for Operation Lock. 

Ellis wrote his story, and the day it appeared, SanGeorge sent a memorandum to all WWF national organisations. The memo reiterated what SanGeorge had told Ellis, and emphasised that Operation Lock "was initiated without the knowledge or authority of the Director General" and that "no funds for the Operation were channelled through WWF International's books." It was a carefully crafted statement, befitting the work of a lawyer who wants to keep his client out of Jail. But it was hardly an honest explanation befitting a charitable organisation. 

The truth, which has never come out publicly, is found in a series of communications from Frans Stroebel, executive director of WWF's South African affiliate when Operation Lock commenced and the man who had introduced Lieutenant-Colonel Crooke to senior police and conservation officials in South Africa. Stroebel wrote Prince Philip: 

I have given Mr. de Haes a number of comprehensive briefings on the project since I first became involved. In May 1989, I gave him full details. He then went to HRH Prince Bernhard to confirm that Prince Bernhard was indeed the sponsor. Mr. de Haes satisfied himself with the developments, and in subsequent discussions with me he never expressed any concern about my involvement, or, for that matter, the covert programme itself. 

As for the funds for the operation, Stroebel said, in another letter, "The funds for Operation Lock were actually WWF funds." The money had come to WWF-lnternational, then was channelled back out to Bernhard for Operation Lock in a series of strange transactions. First, in December 1988, Sotheby's auctioned two paintings owned by Bernhard-The Holy Family, a seven-by-five-foot oil by Bartolome Esteban Murillo, and The Rape of Europa, a four-by-five-foot oil by Elisabetta Sirani. Together they brought in £610,000. On Bernhard's instructions the proceeds were donated to WWF-International; Sotheby's had noted in its catalogue that they would be. But if the buyer-who remains anonymous—thought the money was going toward WWF's general conservation work, he was mistaken. Within a few weeks after the sale, Bernhard called the administrator of the 1001 Club and asked her to transfer £500,000 from the 1001 Club account to Queen Juliana's (his wife's) account in the Netherlands. The £500,000 was needed for Operation Lock, according to Stroebel, and de Haes "agreed to the use of these funds as requested." (Bernhard told WWF it could keep the remaining £110,000, which at the time was worth a little less than $200,000.) 

After Ellis's story appeared, many Western conservationists working in Africa were embarrassed, because Operation Lock had been exposed-not because they thought it was wrong to engage in a covert operation to stop the illegal trade in rhino horn and ivory. Indeed, the possibility of covert operations had often been discussed by elephant and rhino specialists. On one occasion, at a meeting attended by conservationists from WWF, AWF and other organisations, Hanks outlined what he had in mind and the general response, as described by a person who attended, was "Get on with it. Don't tell us what you're doing, but get on with it." Government officials in Zambia, Tanzania and Kenya did not feel quite the same way. They declined offers of assistance from KAS. 

That there was a schism as big as a canyon between the approach to conservation taken by the Africans on the one hand and the conservation organisations on the other was not surprising, not when one looked at the conservation organisations: they were the monopoly of white Westerners. Whites headed them, hired whites to staff them, and implemented programs that reflected Western values. 

WWF-International has its headquarters in Gland, a quintessential Swiss town-small, quiet, neat, and white. It carries out programs around the world, most of them in the Third World, yet one has rarely seen other than a white face in the Gland offices.. For thirty years, not a single African, and only a handful of Asians and Latin Americans, were ever hired by WWF-International. Only one black has ever held a professional position in the Africa section of WWF-US, and he was not hired until 1991. In the field-that is, in Africa-walk into the organisation's offices, and it is like colonial days: white at the top, blacks in the inferior positions. WWF's major presence in Africa has been its regional office in Nairobi, which in various incarnations has existed since the 1960s; it has always been headed by whites, and not until 1989 was there a single African in a professional position. Only one WWF program anywhere on the continent has ever been headed by an African.

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