When it was recently revealed that Prince Charles’s adviser Michael Fawcett is facing allegations of awarding an off-the-books honorary C.B.E. to a Saudi banker in return for a large charitable donation, you could be forgiven for thinking that Prince Charles might not have been consulted. After all, the future King does nothing but hand out honors all year long. Maybe, you could posit, he did this accidentally, by reflex.
However, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the Prince of Wales’s charities have something of a habit of overstepping the mark. Last weekend, in The Times of London, it was also reported that a charity of which Prince Charles is a patron had allegedly received donations from a shady Russian oligarch once convicted of money-laundering. More pressingly, some of the money seems to have gone missing entirely. Whether it was by accidental mismanagement or deliberate subterfuge, the slipup calls into question Prince Charles’s ability to run a charity. And if he cannot competently run a charity, who would want to see him named head of state?
The Russian in question is Dmitry Leus, a banker born in Turkmenistan and now living in London, who has long sought British citizenship. Like Mahfouz Marei Mubarak bin Mahfouz—the Saudi tycoon with the honorary C.B.E.—Leus employed the services of William Bortrick, the owner of Burke’s Peerage and a fixer whose flawless contact list could be utilized to help wealthy foreign nationals gain British titles, honorary positions, or full citizenship.
Bortrick suggested to Leus that making several large donations to the Prince’s Foundation—the bulk of which would be destined to help renovate a decaying 18th-century Scottish pile known as Dumfries House—would help his cause. Soon after, Leus received a letter from Prince Charles himself, stating that “I very much look forward to seeing you,” once the threat of the coronavirus has passed.
But things soon soured. Because of Leus’s 2004 conviction for money-laundering—since overturned—the ethics committee of the Prince’s Foundation chose to reject his donation, despite the warm acknowledgments and promises from Prince Charles. Leus was then asked to delete any online evidence of his interactions with Prince Charles. Leus’s Instagram account shows that he didn’t follow instructions, although nobody seemed to notice.
Under normal circumstances, the donations would have been returned and everyone would have attempted to make the best of a bad situation. However, Leus was told that his money could still be accepted if it were diverted to a much smaller charity, Children & the Arts, of which the Prince is said to have been a patron. Leus even received a letter from the organization, gushing that his money “enabled the charity to fulfil its educational programmes for disadvantaged children attending schools in the United Kingdom.”
Which is lovely. Honorable, even. Except for a few minor details. Children & the Arts no longer has a functioning Web site, the organization hasn’t tweeted since 2019, nobody answers the phones, and last year it awarded less than $132,000 to beneficiaries. A trustee suggested that it was in the process of being wound up. Oh, and Children & the Arts denies sending Leus a letter at all.
So where did his money go? The Prince’s Foundation wanted it returned after rejection from their ethics committee, and it doesn’t seem to have gone to Children & the Arts. Nor has it been repaid to Leus, who is apparently so incandescent about the mismanagement that he is considering legal action. The whole situation is so problematic that the chairman of Prince Charles’s charitable foundation, along with other high-ranking members of the staff, has now resigned.
It was also reported that a charity of which Prince Charles is a patron had accepted donations from a shady Russian oligarch convicted of money-laundering.
You will remember that, almost as soon as the Mahfouz affair was made public, Prince Charles denied all knowledge of any wrongdoing in his charities, and Fawcett, the chief executive of the Prince’s Foundation, resigned. Fawcett has since been followed by the chairman, Douglas Connell, and the deputy executive director, Chris Martin. And, this week, Clarence House promised an independent investigation, but no official statement has been made about Prince Charles’s possible involvement with Leus.
This would appear to be a scandal that goes all the way to the top. Or at least it would if the top wasn’t the heir to the throne of the United Kingdom. Either way, this increasingly looks like a mess that Prince Charles cannot escape from intact.
Stuart Heritage is a Kent, U.K.–based Writer at Large for AIR MAIL