Jeffrey Archer's Simple Truth appeal in aid of Iraqi Kurds raised just £1m, less than two per cent of the figure he had appeared to assert, it was claimed yesterday.
The Simple Truth concert in May 1991 – featuring artists such as Sting, Paul Simon and Chris de Burgh – was part of a British Red Cross fundraising effort that was widely credited with raising £57m.
But yesterday, as one former Red Cross official admitted "The £57m never existed", the truth behind the money raised for the embattled Kurds appeared anything but simple.
The accounts of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees show it received £122m in donations for the Kurds, of which just £1m – less than 1 per cent of the total – was collected from the BRC's Simple Truth.
However, at a press conference on 19 June 1991, a triumphant Archer held up a placard boasting of a £57,042,000 total – a figure which was thought to top Bob Geldof's Live Aid fund by £9m.
Archer's characteristic flamboyance came back to haunt him when a complaint was lodged by the Liberal Democrat MEP Baroness Nicholson about how and where the money went. It is being investigated by Scotland Yard's fraud squad while the disgraced Tory peer languishes in prison.
The British Red Cross (BRC) was adamant yesterday that the £57m had only ever been a "global" figure and Archer was a mere "trigger" in its raising.
The BRC's chief executive, Sir Nicholas Young, said: "From our papers, it is quite clear that Jeffrey Archer had no access to the funds raised by the British Red Cross. None of the funds went missing. We can account for all of them."
Radio 4's Today programme said yesterday that its own investigation suggested the concert itself barely broke even, and the vast bulk of the quoted figure was donated by world governments who were probably already committed to helping; therefore only a "tiny, tiny proportion", £1m, of the £57m had come from Simple Truth.
The programme said the £1m quoted by the UNHCR came from a total of £9.2m, over which the BRC had direct control.
Another £5.9m from that fund was given to a pool of charities to spend on aid , while the remaining £2.25m was spent by the BRC on aid items, including 4,000 tents, 49,250 blankets, 10,000 kilos of biscuits and 19.9 tons of canned tuna fish.
Yesterday, Baroness Nicholson, who had lodged her complaint days after Archer, 61, was convicted, said she felt the findings had proved her suspicions.
"Clearly, both the Red Cross and Jeffrey Archer, deliberately or not, misled the Iraqi Kurds at their time of greatest need.
"They carried these misleading claims right through into the accounts ... and beyond that to January 1992, nearly a year later, when the UN High Commissioner for Refugees on the spot in northern Iraq was still saying 'where is the £57m?'
"The end result was that, about a month later, the Iraqi Kurds gave up their unequal struggle against Saddam Hussein and signed an agreement which we never wished them to do and which they were bitterly opposed to in the first place."
Lady Archer, 56, in her first interview since her husband was jailed for perjury and perverting the course of justice last month, said: "It was a huge effort, he put a huge amount of his own time and indeed resources into it, and the figures ... do indeed total to £57m, as announced at that time."
She said the concert was designed to increase the profile of the Kurds, not bring in millions. Lady Archer complained the investigation meant the novelist's security classification was upgraded from Category D to Category C, preventing him from being transferred from Wayland jail in Norfolk to an open prison.
She said: "They're very serious allegations, they're entirely without foundation ... I think she (Baroness Nicholson) is misled and misleading."
Patrick Healey, a BRC head of international aid at the time of the appeal, said: "The £57m never existed. The figure arose because BRC staff were asked in the period after the Simple Truth concert how much money had been raised for Kurdish relief and came up with the global figure of £57m.
"But this was never a figure available to the BRC as a result of the Simple Truth concert."
Sir Nicholas Young, however, stood by the figure. The British Government, he said, gave more than £4.5m to the BRC fund, with the remainder donated by individuals. The Government gave a further £5.5m directly to the UNHCR.
Red Cross and Red Crescent societies reported that global publicity for the Simple Truth appeal had sparked another £11.7m in donations, Sir Nicholas said. And Archer's "extremely energetic efforts in relation to the Kurdish appeal" generated a further £31.5m from governments.
Sir Nicholas said the charity had prepared its own report for the fraud squad. Scotland Yard fraud squad officers are carrying out a preliminary assessment of Baroness Nicholson's complaint before deciding whether to hold a full investigation.
Jeffrey Archer was jailed for four years last month after being convicted of charges related to his successful £500,000 1987 High Court libel action against the Daily Star. The peer lodged an appeal against his conviction on Wednesday.
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