Widow blames financial problems for ex-UK army officer’s death in Istanbul
Emma Winberg, the wife of former British army officer James Le Mesurier who jumped to his death on Nov. 11, 2019 from his apartment in Istanbul, has said the ultimate cause of her husband’s death was the financial problems he faced, not an international intrigue.
Speaking to British newspaper Daily Mail, Winberg dismissed rumors of any Syrian or Russian involvement in her husband’s death, pointing to Le Mesurier’s chief financial officer, Dutchman Johan Eleveld, as a suspect.
According to Winberg, her 48-year-old husband was “the driving force behind the legendary ‘White Helmets,’ the civilian rescue teams who risk life and limb to save others in Syria’s bloody civil war.”
He had “dedicated his life to a project called Mayday Rescue that provided training and equipment for the White Helmets, financed by Western countries including Britain.”
“James hated bureaucracy. Mayday attracted some £90 million in donations from its Western backers. But in his rush to expand the organization, James neglected the paperwork,” wrote the Daily Mail.
According to Winberg, “the man who wielded the stick was his own chief financial officer, Johan Eleveld.”
Accusing the Dutchman of driving her husband to the edge of despair, Winberg said, “Elevand exploited a single mistake by James.”
Mayday’s boss had drawn some $50,000 in cash from the organization’s safe to fund a daring rescue operation of the White Helmets trapped in southern Syria, a mission he dubbed “Magic Carpet.”
Some of this money went missing and James later ordered staff to forge two receipts to cover up the loss.
“I hold Johan Eleveld responsible for James’s death and the subsequent collapse of Mayday,” Winberg told the Daily Mail.
“He created the circumstances that led to my husband’s death, he destroyed my life, and he devastated the wonderful organization James built.”
Meeting in Iraq in 2016, Le Mesurier and Winberg wed in July 2018 on the Princes’ Island of Büyükada in Istanbul.
“James established Mayday in 2014. I joined the organization as a director,” said Winberg, underlining that the organization managed around 3,000 volunteers.
According to her, Elevand, a former financial controller at the Dutch Foreign Ministry, joined Mayday in August 2018. Mayday was based in Istanbul, but it was registered in the Netherlands as a charitable foundation.
“As his involvement deepened, so his reputation darkened,” wrote the Daily Mail, adding, “Eleveld is said to have been the source of smears concerning James and Emma’s wedding.”
The Dutchman had accused the couple of using cash from the organization’s safe. “I borrowed $42,000 from Mayday, but paid back in a week with the rest offset against my salary,” said Winberg about Elevend’s allegations that “$90,000 were taken from the safe for the wedding-dress.”
Elevend had told employees of Mayday that some of the money was used for their honeymoon in Oman and some for rescue operations were missing.
“Eleveld deliberately highlighted the false-document fraud to Dutch auditors in 2019,” said Winberg and alleged: “He then magnified its seriousness to James during a meeting at the Novotel in Istanbul just days before his death. This was part of a power grab by Eleveld designed to secure James’s removal and ensure his installation as CEO.”
The Daily Mail also contacted Elevend, who is based in the Netherlands.
Regarding the missing Magic Carpet money and the forged documents, he said, “I warned [James] that it was a serious, fraudulent action and, according to Dutch law, you can end up in prison for this kind of behaviour.”
A Dutch finance expert spoken to by the Daily Mail said the “threat of prison is ‘ridiculous’ given there was no gain by James.”
“We had no guarantees about our futures. There was no package. At any time, the donors could have withdrawn funding and our jobs would have been gone. James had only a tiny pension from the military,” said Winberg.
“We were taking extraordinary personal risks. We took a hell of a lot of personal risk in terms of allegations of espionage and engaging with terrorism. James was mentioned by name at the U.N. Security Council by Russian and Syrian diplomats many times.”
Le Mesurier gave his wife a sleeping pill just before he crawled out a window on to a roof and jumped to death in Istanbul on Nov. 11, 2019. The widow now lives in Amsterdam with her husband’s ashes next to a framed photo of him and a posy from their wedding.