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Raiding Malawi, UN's Gucci Event Costs $25,000 Per Table, One-Half to Madonna's Kabbalah Center

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, January 31 -- A table at the Gucci and Madonna event scheduled for the North Lawn of the UN on February 6, which Gucci says will "celebrate the opening" of its flagship store on Manhattan's Fifth Avenue, costs a minimum of $25,000, a spokeswoman for the event told Inner City Press on Thursday. The cost ranges as high as $100,000 a table, or $10,000 per plate or plate. Half of the money raised will go to "Raising Malawi," whose website is emblazoned "Kabbalah Center," click here to view. Inner City Press, which first reported on the event on January 25, asked at the UN's January 31 noon briefing, "what percentage of the funds are going to something called 'Raising Malawi,' and is it the UN's understanding that it is in fact a non-profit?  All of the funds will go to Malawi?"

            Associate Spokesperson Farhan Haq then said, "I will refer those questions to UNICEF.  UNICEF has been involved.  Some of the arrangements are made by the US Committee for UNICEF.  They do have a press release that we have upstairs that has some details on this for you.  But beyond that, I think you should communicate with UNICEF directly."

            But UNICEF has referred all questions to the US Fund for UNICEF (the word "Committee" was dropped from the title some time ago), and their spokeswoman Marissa Buckanoff, after having failed to respond to an inquiry on deadline on January 25, on Thursday replied that "tables to the event were sold for $25,000 to $100,000 each...The U.S. Fund for UNICEF will receive 50 percent of all ticket sales and other fundraising initiatives at the event. The other 50% will go to Raising Malawi... I am unable to comment on Raising Malawi's 501(c)3 status....I suggest you contact them regarding your question about their organization."

            So, the UN Secretariat has referred all questions to UNICEF, which has in turn referred to an affiliated not-for-profit, which refuses to confirm or deny if a group which stands to make several hundred thousand dollars from an event on UN grounds is, in fact, a registered not-for-profit, and how this group will use the money. Meanwhile Gucci is using the event to advertise its store on Fifth Avenue. Who is setting guidelines for all this? A UN source on Thursday said that a contract must exist between the UN's Office of Legal Affairs and the above-named parties. But where is the contract? And why does it not prohibit commercial use in advertisement of the UN affiliation, for a luxury leather goods store?

Raiding Malawi?

            This is in contrast even to the UN's previous entanglement with corporations during the celebration of the UN's 50th Anniversary. Corporations such as Swatch and Lucky Goldstar, LG (now Living Good) contributed funds, but were told they could not use this in advertising-like communication, and would be limited to be listed in a program for the event. Gucci does much more, for a more dubious endeavor. So is the UN improving? And what of the promised transparency? Watch this site.

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These reports are also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

  Because a number of Inner City Press' UN sources go out of their way to express commitment to serving the poor, and while it should be unnecessary, Inner City Press is compelled to conclude this installment in a necessarily-ongoing series by saluting the stated goals of the UN agencies and many of their staff. Keep those cards, letters and emails coming, and phone calls too, we apologize for any phone tag, but please continue trying, and keep the information flowing.

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Other, earlier Inner City Press are listed here, and some are available in the ProQuest service, and now on Lexis-Nexis.

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UN Office: S-453A, UN, NY 10017 USA Tel: 212-963-1439

Reporter's mobile (and weekends): 718-716-3540