It was a play straight from the handbook of crisis PR management. When Hilary Swank was caught accepting a six-figure fee to appear at the televised birthday party of Chechen dictator, Ramzan Kadyrov, she publicly decided to eat a large portion of humble pie.
Amid outrage from human rights groups, the Oscar-winning actress issued a grovelling apology for September's paid trip to Grozny, in which she'd sauntered on stage in a cocktail dress, endorsed the brutal autocrat's "passion to make peace," and declared "Happy Birthday, Mr President!"
Swank then promised to donate her earnings from the trip to: "various charitable organisations." In a later appearance on Jay Leno's sofa, she explained that, although she'd been misled about the true nature of the event, she accepted full responsibility for being there. "Shame on me!" she said. "I should know about where I am going."
That was four months ago. Since then, the scandal has died down. But no charities have come forward to publicly acknowledge receipt of Swank's promised financial donation. And human rights groups are starting to wonder what, exactly, has become of it.
Now Chechnya's self-styled "government in exile" has jumped into the fray. Akhmed Zakaev, the country's former foreign minister, who was deposed by Mr Kadyrov and is currently living in London, has written to Swank demanding evidence that she really handed over the cash.
To see the full letter to Ms Swank from Akhmed Zakaev, click HERE
"I would like to ask you to provide me with official information about the charitable organisations which have benefited from this money as a result of your public undertaking," reads the letter, a copy of which has been passed to The Independent. "Many directors of humanitarian and human rights organisations dealing with Chechen issues have asked me about it."
Mr Zakaev's letter was sent on Monday, in his capacity as Prime Minister of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeriya, the country's unofficial separatist administration. It was directed to the office of Swank's partner John Campisi, an agent at CAA, the Hollywood talent agency which represents her and organised the controversial Grozny booking.
In an interview yesterday, Mr Zakaev said that he has yet to receive a response. He reminded Swank that abductions, tortures, rapes, and murders by Mr Kadryov's regime are a "daily occurrence," and said his victims are therefore anxious to see confirmation that her fee went to a good home.
"We really expect, when someone apologises, and promises publicly to do something, and says they will try to fix a big mistake, to be able to see that it actually happens," said Zakaev. "Hilary Swank said that she would transfer the money. But after four months, nobody knows if she has kept her word."
CAA yesterday declined to comment on Mr Zakayev's letter. Ms Swank's spokeswoman Michele Robertson, meanwhile insisted that her client had indeed fulfilled her promise to donate the fee to good causes. But she refused to detail how much money the actress has given away, or identify the recipients of her largesse.
"I can unequivocally confirm that, over the last four months, Hilary has been working directly and privately with various human rights organizations and other charities, giving both her time and financial resources," Robertson said in a statement.
"At the request of such organizations, and consistent with Hilary's longstanding practice of donating anonymously, she will not be publicly acknowledging her contributions and efforts."
Not everyone thinks that's good enough. "This is laughable," said Thor Halvorssen, the president of the Human Rights Foundation. "Hilary Swank publicly stated that she would give the money to charity; now she should publicly state which charities it went to. We agree with Prime Minister Zakayev: there needs to be transparency."Reuse content