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Published On: Tue, Jan 10th, 2023

K1 Britannia under fire for financial shenanigans

PHILIPSBURG — The K1 Britannia Foundation, a nonprofit established in St. Maarten in 2014, is falling apart at the seams due to controversies about the opaque way it is handling its finances. Volunteers who have worked tirelessly on social projects in places like St. Maarten, Dominica and Haiti have left the foundation, mostly out of frustration about the foundation’s vice-president Priyanka Thirumur’s unwillingness to explain what happened with huge donations.

Former employees turned for help to the Labor Office when K1 stopped paying their salaries.

The former volunteers we spoke with for this story all asked that their identity be protected, a request StMaartenNews.com will honor. The reason? “Priya and her allies are dangerous and they have an international network,” as one source expressed it.

Thirumur is a 35-year old woman with French nationality who was born in Bangalore, India. Her country of residence is France, though she also lives in Philipsburg. “She is hardly ever here because she is traveling all over the world. I wondered: who is paying for all this? Because traveling is expensive,” one source, a prominent radio personality on the island, told us. When Thirumur was unwilling to provide an account for the spending habits of the foundation, the source withdrew his support for K1 Britannia events like Christmas Angels.

Questions were raised after K1-volunteers returned from a support mission in earthquake-stricken Haiti. The account Thirumur provided of expenditures related to that mission “just did not add up.”

The lack of financial transparency shows a lot of similarities with the behavior of a religious cult, founded in the sixties of last century by David Berg as Children of God (later renamed The Family) and YWAM – Youth with a Mission. One source asked Thirumur whether she was involved with YWAM. “She denied it, but she was lying,” a source said.

YWAM has been linked to the yachting industry and to making appearances in Cannes and Monaco. “That’s where they hunt rich people and cheat them,” one source observed.

The Monaco Yacht Show is indeed the perfect venue to find people with money to spare, because this is where the owners of super yachts meet.

K1 Britannia received a grant as a partner in St. Maarten’s food voucher program that was put in place after Hurricane Irma in 2017. SMDF, the St. Maarten Development Foundation, coordinated the program. In 2021 it paid K1 more than 2.5 million guilders to cover the costs. When the program ended, not all money was spent and K1 was obviously required to return the remaining funds to SMDF. K1 evaded questions when the time came to repay SMDF. “This time Priyanka claimed that she was sick,” a source noted. The foundation was unable to repay for almost three months. Rumor has it that K1 used proceeds from the K1 Gala in December 2021 to repay SMDF.

SMDF terminated its relationship with K1 when it found out how the board does its financial reporting. Thirumur however, told staff during a meeting that SMDF had withdrawn its support ‘because they want to give new organizations an opportunity to receive funding.”

A similar story has to do with an advance the local Red Cross paid to K1 for a project. The expenditures were however lower than the advance and the Red Cross expected the outstanding of more than €100,000 to be returned. When it was time to repay, K1 only paid back around €15,000 and the Red Cross is still waiting for the remaining €88,000. It has informed the foundation that, if it does not repay the full amount by the end of this month, it will be facing action, like the deployment of a collection agency.

One source said that K1 Britannia “owes a lot of money to a lot of people.”

Then there is the story of a donor, whose name has not been revealed, who pleasantly surprised K1 Britannia with a donation of $100,000. When questions arose about how this money was spent, Thirumur initially claimed that she had never received the donation. Later, she came up with debatable explanations about expenditures related to the Haiti-mission that did not make sense, like volunteer stipends for the food program that already were covered by the previously mentioned SMDF grant and other discrepancies while these costs also were covered by others.

In 2018, another ‘significant donor’ forked over more than $360,000 as the first tranche of a $1 million donation to Navarch LLC, a Florida-based entity that lists Scott Marvin Ward as its only manager. When the donor started asking questions, Ward was unable to come up with answers. when the donor turned up the heat after months of waiting Thirumur told him that Ward had health issues and this was the reason why he could not explain what had been done with the donation. Ward reportedly kept avoiding the donor when questions kept coming about the donation.

From the many organizations associated with the K1 Britannia Foundation emerges the picture of a confusing and baffling global network. There are around 30 entities, spread over ten different countries. Thirumur has a function (or previously had a function) in six of these organizations; among them are K1 Britannia St. Maarten, of which she is listed as the vice-president; she is a consultant of the K1 Britannia Trust and a director of K1 Race Ltd., established in London.

Another name that frequently pops up in this chaotic web of organizations is the previously mentioned Scott Marvin Ward, a resident of Aspen, Colorado. Ward has (or had) functions in eleven different entities, established in places like Colorado, London, Florida, California, Edinburgh and South Africa. He is currently a trustee of the K1 Britannia America Foundation, but his name also appears in association with Medical Creations Inc., Flipcents, Crisscross Funding. K1 Britannia Ltd. (London) and (see above) Navarch LLC.

Crisscross Funding was involved in a lawsuit in the United States in 2018. The plaintiff, Bryant Ibekwe, claimed that Ward and others were operating scam business and that they were soliciting loans they never intended to pay back.

In February 2020, Thirumur announced during a presentation at Lagoonies Bistro the launch of the Spirit of St. Maarten, a classic sailing boat. The costs of the vessel (around $1 million) were covered by a donor, who also put up the money for another boat that is currently in Spain. The donor suspects that the first tranche of his donation never reached the island. what happened to that money remains unclear.

The Spirit of St. Maarten was supposed to be used for fundraising activities like cruises and charters, but sources tell us that the boat has termite issues and that it is in dire need of maintenance, and its staff has filed complaints with the Labor Office.

Tripadvisor describes the Spirit on its website as “an elegant 114-foot schooner hand-built by artisans on the coast of Brazil” and “the only luxury vessel on the island with a social mission.”

It sounds all very romantic and as something that is too good to be true. And maybe it is. There are many questions about K1’s financials but, as one source put it, “the challenge is to come up with the evidence.”

Youth with a Mission and its associated religious cults like The Family use their influence to manipulate and influence decision makers like politicians. K1 Britannia apparently took that concept as an example when it invited Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs to the launch of the Spirit and when it posted a quote from St. Maarten’s former Prime Minister Leona Marlin on its website: “I am more confident than ever that the level of our disaster preparedness and management is in the hands of hard-working NGO’s who have Sint Maarten’s well-being at heart.”

The financial shenanigans attributed to the board members of K1 Britannia, and in particular to Priyanka Thirumur and Scott Ward, have affected current and former volunteers who have always worked with pride on a string of well-intended social projects that benefited not only the community of St. Maarten but also people in for instance Dominica and Haiti.

While donors have started asking question about what the foundation did with their money, former volunteers are overcome with sadness. “This is really shocking for all those people who for more than ten years have believed in the good work with K1 as one of the most dominant non-governmental organizations. These volunteers have nothing to do with those financial irregularities but Priya and her allies are really dangerous with an international network.”