A mysterious “cult-like” charity led by a millionaire fugitive is scouting in Wellington for volunteers to work in Africa.
Posters around the city are appealing for Kiwis to study through the Humana People to People programme to become “development instructors” working with street kids and HIV/Aids sufferers in Mozambique, Namibia,
Humana is affiliated to the worldwide Tvind network, described in a recent court case in Denmark as a $500 million maze of charities and companies active in 55 countries.
Former members of the group in Britain have reported being held captive, watching brainwashed friends suffer physical and emotional abuse, and seeing the proceeds of fundraising siphoned away from charitable activities.
The Humana posters advertise a six-month training course at one of four schools – in California, Michigan, Massachusetts and St Vincent in the Caribbean – followed by six to 12 months in Africa and another two months’ schooling.
Tuition at the schools costs US$4050 (NZ$5890).
US media reported recently that students were required to raise a further US$7000 (NZ$10,200) to get to Africa.
In 2003, The Guardian newspaper described the founder of the “cult-like organisation”, Mogens Amdi Pedersen of Denmark, as “a kind of hippie guru, a revolutionary firebrand who preached a Maoist-inspired gospel of social renewal.”
Other mainstream media reports in Britain and the US have called Tvind a sinister, secular cult and a corrupt left-wing sect.
Attempts to contact Humana for comment about their New Zealand operations were unsuccessful.
In August, Mr Pedersen and other Tvind leaders were acquitted in Denmark of embezzlement and tax fraud charges worth $48 million.
The organisation’s financial controller was found guilty.
As the Danish public prosector announced he would appeal the not guilty verdicts, the media reported most of the defendants, including Mr Pedersen, had fled the country.
Tvind has repeatedly run foul of European authorities in the past decade.
In 1999, its British operations were effectively shut down by the Charity Commission over concerns money was not being used for its intended purpose.
New Zealander Ian Mander, who runs the website cults.co.nz, said because of the way Humana had previously treated its students and handled money, it should be approached “with extreme caution”.
“It’s a serious concern that this group is operating in New Zealand.”