Madonna, Gucci aid Malawi orphans amid controversy

Wed Feb 6, 2008 10:40pm EST
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By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Pop star Madonna hosted a celebrity-studded event on Wednesday on the lawns of the United Nations to aid Malawi orphans, the U.N. Children's Fund (UNICEF) and -- controversially -- to inaugurate a new Gucci store.

Actors Tom Cruise, Katie Holmes, Demi Moore, Ashton Kutcher, Drew Barrymore, Gwyneth Paltrow and a heavily pregnant Jennifer Lopez were among many stars at the dinner that Gucci Chief Executive Mark Lee said has already raised $3.7 million.

But critics have objected to the use of the U.N. grounds to kick off a Gucci store opening and raised concerns about ties between Madonna's charity Raising Malawi and The Kabbalah Centre, a body devoted to a mystical form of Judaism followed by the pop star.

The accusations, made mainly by bloggers, appear to stem from the fact that Raising Malawi's founder Michael Berg is also co-director of The Kabbalah Centre.

"I don't really pay any attention to that. I am grateful that Gucci has underwritten this event -- that's all that matters to me -- their generosity. There's always controversy surrounding anything that involves change," Madonna told Reuters.

"I want to put Raising Malawi on the map. I want credibility as a philanthropic organization. I want to inspire people. I don't want them to just write me a check: I want them to give me a piece of their heart," she said.

Philippe van den Bossche, executive director of Raising Malawi, said it was "absolutely not true" that any money raised would benefit Kabbalah. He said the organization was a nonprofit, registered, nonsectarian organization intended to provide support for orphans and vulnerable children in Malawi.


<p>Entertainer Madonna blows a kiss as she arrives to attend a reception to benefit UNICEF hosted by Gucci at the United Nations headquarters in New York February 6, 2008. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson</p>