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Exclusive: Cult members charged with laundering $12m in ‘transnational criminal fraud’

Michael Durham photo
Michael DurhamCorrentina, Bahia, Brazil
Exclusive: Cult members charged with laundering $12m in ‘transnational criminal fraud’
Prosecutors in Brazil have charged three European ‘charity workers’ with laundering $12 million in ‘humanitarian’ funds. The three are all members of the Teachers Group cult, which authorities say is a ‘transnational criminal organisation’.

THREE LEADING MEMBERS OF the Tvind Teachers Group - the supposed humanitarian organisation, which controls dozens of ‘development charities’ around the world - have been charged with $12 million money laundering in Brazil. Prosecutors described the Group as a ‘transnational criminal organisation’. 

The Teachers Group is the body behind tens of thousands of charity-style used clothes boxes in Britain and the United States, run by enterprises including Humana People-to-People, Planet Aid, Gaia, USAgain and DAPP. In Britain, boxes badged Planet Aid UK are part of a complex offshore financial empire controlled from Mexico. The organisation is regarded as a cult, and its founder and leader, Amdi Petersen, is wanted by Interpol.

The action by the Federal Public prosecutor in Bahia (Ministério Público Federal na Bahia - MPF/BA), announced on Wednesday, is the sequel to a high-profile (and still ongoing) fraud prosecution in Scandinavia, which was interrupted nine years ago when five Teachers Group defendants secretly sneaked away from Denmark and went on the run. They are still being sought by police forces and Interpol around the world.

The Brazilian prosecutors say the charges in the new case relate to more than $12 million allegedly laundered by Tvind Teachers Group through companies in Brazil up to September 1998, in what they termed ‘a trans-national scheme of financial fraud’ involving schools, factories, businesses, foundations and NGOs. Further sums are alleged to have been passed to the Teachers Group’s Brazilian charity, the Humana People-to-People Association, Brazil, in 2010.

The Teachers Group has a presence in more than 55 countries, with more than 100 known offshore companies in at least 15 tax havens.

THE BRAZILIAN AUTHORITIES’ DECISION TO CHARGE three Europeans resident in Brazil with money laundering represents some smart thinking by prosecutors in Bahia. The three have been named as Lars Jensen, Per Ehlert Knudsen and Paullus Gerardus Van Dun (Paul Van Dun), all residents of the Posse district of Bahia Correntina.

All are members of the Teachers Group alleged cult, and all have been resident in Brazil for many years. They are the Teachers Group’s leading representatives in Brazil. Between them, they are responsible for managing the Teachers Group’s principal assets in the country: a huge agricultural plantation, Fazenda Jatoba, near Posse in Bahia Correntina; and the development charity, Humana Brazil.

Because the source and much of the evidence in this case derives from the 2002-6 trial in Denmark, we already have a general idea of what the allegations against the three are likely to be. The prosecution in that trial was against the Teachers Group high command in Europe and the USA, charged with laundering money from a humanitarian charity through shell companies and fake charities to buy the property in Brazil.

Since those five defendants are no longer available for prosecution, Brazilian authorities have now turned their attention to other (albeit more junior) Teachers Group cult members in Brazil, who they will claim have been complicit in receiving and misusing money, knowingly aware of the circumstances. The three are board directors and managers of several companies in Brazil through which the Teachers Group works.

THE MAIN ALLEGATION OF MONEY LAUNDERING in the Danish 2002-2006 trial related to the massive Fazenda Jatobà estate, roughly at kilometre 304 of the BR 020 road, around 8km from the border between Bahia and Goias states in central Brazil. Fazenda Jatoba is a long way from anywhere. It is an agricultural plantation about the size of Greater London, planted with eucalyptus, soya, citrus and various fruits and vegetables.

Until 1992, Fazenda Jatobà (also known as Floryl) belonged to Shell Oil. Around that time, according to Danish police, the inner circle of the Teachers Group organisation, led by Amdi Petersen, mounted a sophisticated operation to acquire the property with illicit cash through a maze of offshore accounts, shell companies, false accounting, fake charities and even a bogus research institute.

The Tvind Teachers Group, which began in around 1970, was ostensibly a left-wing co-operative and educational trust run on communal principles, with several hundred members. On the outside, it was a ‘humanitarian organisation’, dedicated to alleviating Third World poverty by redistribution and development. In reality, according to police, its members and their money were being exploited by a cynical inner circle.

From the mid-1980s, according to police evidence, gullible supporters were coerced into money-making schemes of ever more doubtful legality, as leaders allegedly sought to amass money for secret property development plans in developing countries.

A young woman became a ‘currency mule’, trafficking dollars from Angola to Europe. Rank-and-file Teachers Group members, who had joined up in the belief they were helping the poor, were appointed as nominee directors on hundreds of company boards. One hapless group of volunteers was despatched to the South Seas aboard a leaky boat, told that they were the employees of a ‘scientific research institute’.

In fact, as the police aimed to prove, it was all a charade intended to pull the wool over the financial authorities’ eyes, evade tax and move money undetected from ‘humanitarian’ causes to property deals. A multi-million dollar charity fund, The Humanitarian Fund, which supporters believed would be used for humanitarian and environmental work, gave generous grants to an ‘Institute for Scientific Research and Applied Sciences’ (IFAS) and two environmental charities in Paris, La Society Verte and L’Energie Eternelle, with an address on the Champs d’Elysee.

In fact, according to the Danish police Department for Serious Economic Crime, the scientific institute and charities were fake. Research projects and development they were supposed to be funding abroad were bogus too. The money - about $25m - ended up in offshore bank accounts controlled by the inner circle. In 1991, the inner circle bought Amdi Petersen an apartment off Miami beach for around $4 million. In 1994 the deal with Shell was finally clinched, and the Teachers Group bought Fazenda Jatoba for $12m.

THE NEW CHARGES LAID LAST week by the Bahia public prosecutor suggests the money-go-round in Brazil may have been going on for a few years more - until at least 1998, and possibly until at least 2010. The Teachers Group members allegedly at the receiving end of this financial carousel have been named as Lars Jensen and Per Ehlert Knudsen, both Danes, and Paullus Gerardus Van Dun (Paul Van Dun), a Dutchman. But have the Brazilian authorities got all the right people in their crosshairs?

The two Danish accused, Lars Jensen and Per Ehlert Knudsen, are directors of the leading commercial Teachers Group company in Brazil, Floresta Jatoba (Brasil) Ltda, as well as several other Brazil-registered companies named on the charge sheet: Floryl Florestadora Ypê SA, Floresta Rio Veredão Ltda, Jatobá Administradora de Imóveis Ltda, and Big River Melons Ltda.

Jensen, 66, is known to be a very senior Teachers Group member and has been associated with Amdi Petersen and the ‘inner circle’ for more than 30 years. His name appears often in transcripts of police evidence released after the original Danish trial of 2002-2006. According to these transcripts, he was singled out often by the cult leader Petersen for mention and special praise. In the 1990s, he was one of ‘The Six’ most valued cult members (along with Maria Lichtenberg, who is today the most senior fundraiser for Humana People-to-People and Planet Aid in the United States.)

In the 1990s, according to reports, he played an important part in the secret financial transactions behind the purchase of Fazenda Jatoba farm, using offshore accounts in the British Virgin Islands, Guernsey, Jersey and the Cayman Islands. He was a co-founder of La Societe Verte in Paris, the supposed charity which Danish police say was a money laundering front. When the purchase was complete, Jensen became a manager at the plantation and director of the Brazilian companies, and has lived in Bahia since.

Less is known about Per Ehlert Knudsen, 60, although he has lived and worked for the Teachers Group in Brazil long enough to have taken Brazilian nationality, and is also mentioned in Danish police transcripts. His was involved with L’Energie Eternelle, the other allegedly bogus French charity. For several years, until last year, Knudsen was a director of an important London-registered Teachers Group company connected with the profits from agricultural business, Mt Lezard estate Ltd.

The third ‘Teacher’, Paullus Gerardus Van Dun (Paul Van Dun), is the ‘country director’ of Humana People-to-People Brazil [Associação Humana Povo para Povo Brasil], also based in Bahia. Humana People-to-People Brazil is a part of the Teachers Group’s international ‘development charity’, which collects used clothes worldwide and arranges ‘volunteering’ for young people, and is based in an offshore foundation in Switzerland. Van Dun and Knudsen are both board directors of the association.

The MPF/BA said it had laid charges after receiving information from Danish police. According to a Brazilian newspaper report, “on verifying the gang’s activities in Brazil, the Danish authorities passed on the information to the Brazilian Council for the Control of Financial Activities [Conselho de Controle de Atividades Financeiras], which in turn communicated the information to the MPF.” In its public statements, the MPF/BA has referred to the Teachers Group as ‘a gang' and said it it 'involved in operations in more than 55 countries, obtaining funds through a series of fronts such as schools, factories, businesses, and nongovernmental organizations.’

As of September 1998, according to the MPF/BA, the five Brazilian companies had received some 12 million dollars from “entities controlled by Tvind”. Between April and September 2010, the Brazil Humana People to People Associatio, controlled by Knudsen and Van Dun, had illegally received R$ 447,050.94 [Brazilian reals], the prosecutor says.

BUT HAVE THE BRAZILIAN PROSECUTORS got all the right people in the frame? Official records for the five Brazilian companies at the heart of the case reveal a fourth name which is absent from the charge sheet. Birgitte Krohn, 59, is (or has in recent times been) a director of most of the companies investigated by the Brazilian authorities.

Krohn is certainly a much more senior figure in the Tvind Teachers Group than either Jensen or Knudsen - effectively their boss. Krohn’s history with the cult goes back further and much deeper: she was one of the handful of the core ‘inner circle’ who, in the 1980s, with Amdi Petersen, secretly founded the first anonymous offshore trusts in Jersey that control the whole financial structure, and the Jersey company, FCL, that still today ultimately owns the Fazenda Jatoba ranch (as well as many other landholdings, commercial companies, used clothes recycling enterprises, and charity-style operations worldwide). She was one of only 13 ‘Teachers’ assigned in 1992 as directors of 36 offshore companies where Amdi Petersen directed money was to be hidden.

Birgitte Krohn captured on camera in 2002 (Frede Farmand)

She is also no stranger to the Brazilian courts. In around 2005, a Brazilian company, Rima Ltd, took Krohn and a fellow Teachers Group member, Bolette Gunst, to the Brazilian High Court in a dispute over $6 million of wood ordered from the Fazenda Jatoba plantation which, Rima said, never arrived. (It appears likely the Teachers group needed the money to pay for its new, $10 million headquarters building in Mexico.)

Kohn is now likely to be living in the heavily fortified Mexico compound at San Juan de Las Pulgas, near Endanada, where Amdi Petersen is also believed to be hiding. Perhaps it is because Krohn is not living in Brazil that the Brazilian prosecutor has ignored her. Time, perhaps, for the Mexican authorities to take another look?

WHY SHOULD THE CHARITY-GIVING PUBLIC in London, Berlin or New York be concerned about money laundering accusations in far-off Brazil? The clue is in the complex structure of linked companies revealed in the prosecution papers, both Danish and Brazilian, and their international connections. Almost all of the Teachers Group’s enterprises worldwide - both business and charity - appear to function in a similar way, nested like Russian dolls and ultimately ending in tax havens.

In 1995 the Teachers Group founder, Amdi Petersen, wrote in a secret memo of his plan to hide the group’s money in such a way as ‘to protect it from theft, taxation, and prying eyes’. He would, he told his trusted inner circle, ‘lay down a twisted access path with only ourselves as compass bearers.’ That ‘twisted path’ was a financial maze of more than 100 offshore companies, which exists to this day.

Millions of dollars are being fed annually into the resulting ‘money machine’. Ordinary citizens dumping their clothes into roadside charity bins on a London street, companies sponsoring ambitious ‘development projects’ and even governments making million-dollar grants have no idea they are handing over cash to an organisation whose leader is a wanted man, hunted by Interpol - and the head of what the Brazilian prosecutors last week called ‘a transnational criminal organisation’.

With help from confidential sources all over the world, I’m gradually piecing together the full story of the Teachers Group. With your help, I can delve further into the labyrinth. Please pledge to support my research, and further articles on BYLINE.

More on the Teachers Group is online at the investigative website Tvind Alert

#Brazil, #Teachers Group, #Tvind, #Cult, #Money laundering, #Humana People-to-People, #Birgitte Krohn, #Transnational crime


Bill Fuentes

4 years ago

You pointed out how clever (smart) Brazilian prosecutors were in charging them in Brazil; that kind of Gauntlet could lead to more charges being filed elsewhere!