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Amcham CEO and president Paul Schonenberg has been defended by treasurer James O’Neal over allegations of “hoodwinking” tax payers and the state published in the Journal
Photo: Matic Zorman
The Lëtzebuerger Journal claims Paul Schonenberg used his position at the American Chamber of Commerce to “enrich” himself. Amcham treasurer James O’Neal has refuted the allegations.
Two articles published in the Journal on 7 and 10 February include detailed inside information from the accounts of Amcham. Their author, Cordelia Chaton, suggests that Amcham’s CEO and president Paul Schonenberg “hoodwinked the state and tax payers”, used a credit card in the association’s name to buy personal items, and also suggests he has a conflict of interest with regards to a non-profit organisation he co-founded, International Communities of Luxembourg Asbl (ICL).
Asked by Delano to comment on the articles, Schonenberg said he could not say anything at the present, but that Amcham would be releasing a statement in the near future. But Amcham’s treasurer James O’Neal was more forthright and told Delano that the chamber is reviewing the article and considering its course of action, “including possibly defamation” against the Journal and Cordelia Chaton.
In the first article titled “Die Geschäfte des Herrn Sch.” (“the dealings of Mr. Sch.”) Chaton lists a series of grants given to Amcham by the Luxembourg integration office OLAI over three years for projects including its integration courses and the publication of interviews with expats in its quarterly “Connexion” magazine--the interviews were recently collated into a book that Amcham published in early February.
The Journal says that Amcham received €85,701 for the years 2015/2016 and 2016/2017 and a further €109,431 for the year 2017/18. The journalist also cites an invoice marked “Amcham 2016-1 charitable donation” for €50,000 that was transferred to ICL in September 2016 and claims this money stemmed from the first OLAI grant. Amcham treasurer James O’Neal told Delano that this donation was “approved by the Executive Committee, openly placed in Amcham's budget for that year, voted and approved unanimously by the board of directors and by the members.”
Annual audits by big four
Furthermore, O’Neal points out that grants distributed by OLAI are subject to scrutiny by the integration office and are also examined during Amcham’s annual audit, which the chamber rotates between one of the “big four” firms.
Around the same time ICT company Docler, on whose advisory committee Schonenberg sits, made a donation of computers and tables to Amcham which it says on its website was to be used for ICL’s International Community Center which was being set up in Bonnevoie. Chaton, however, cites a “donation agreement” which specified that the materials were for Amcham and seems surprised that the computers and furniture did not end up at Amcham, but in the Bonnevoie centre.
Chaton also raises the €1,500 rent that Amcham pays for use of the ICC premises. “The [Amcham] Executive Committee voted to use the ICC space for storage but also meeting rooms and other events,” O’Neal said. He also refutes any suggestion that the chamber was aware of a conflict of interest. “Paul's relationship to the ICC was clearly disclosed to the Executive Committee when voting for any funds. To my knowledge the ICC has never made a profit and Mr. Schonenberg takes no salary or other compensation for his duties with the ICC.”
The Journal piece also says that Schonenberg asked the Ville de Luxembourg for a €7,000 rent subsidy and €36,000 for salaries for four employees for the centre who would be taken off the long-term unemployed list.
In Monday’s story, Chaton cited a list of purchases made using the Amcham credit card for various items including lingerie and designer sunglasses. The article states categorically that Schonenberg used the credit card for these purchases. But Delano has received credible information that suggests that another person who was employed by the organisation at the time also had access to the credit card.
More twists to come
O’Neal and Schonenberg also stated that they had not found any record of an attempt by Chaton to contact Amcham for comment. Asked by Delano, Chaton said she twice sent emails asking for comment, as she is obliged to do, and has evidence showing that her emails were received.
But O’Neal, and another member of the executive committee who contacted Delano off the record, have expressed their anger at the tone of the article. “We are all shocked by the sloppiness, shoddiness and bias of Mrs. Chaton and the Journal,” O’Neal said.
Delano has information that suggests there will be several more twists and turns to this story in the coming days and weeks. We will keep readers updated when new official information is released.