‘I didn’t run. I faced it’: Brigitte Fuzellier’s Ten-Year Road to Redemption

Brigitte Fuzellier

One of the longest-running whistleblower retaliation cases finally has come to an end. A full decade after the persecution against her began, Brigitte Fuzellier finally is a free person.

Paraguay’s Supreme Court of Justice has dismissed the criminal complaint filed against Fuzellier by the Paraguay affiliate of Kolping International, a large and influential Catholic charity based in Cologne, Germany. The case was filed against Fuzellier in 2011 after she discovered widespread misconduct and degeneracy within the charity’s Paraguayan operations.

Shortly after being hired as a manager at Kolping, Fuzellier discovered some of the €1.4 million the charity received from Germany and the EU did not go toward its intended purposes. After a series of investigations, Kolping repaid €241,000 to the German government, according to media reports. Rather than being used as a school, a Kolping building funded by German taxpayer money was being used as a brothel, which the German magazine Der Spiegel described as “a true orgy.” The only equipment in the school was a single, poorly functioning sewing machine, Fuzellier said.

Rather than thanking her for documenting the misconduct, Kolping turned around and accused Fuzellier herself of mishandling funds. “They put fake evidence in the case against me. It was a joke,” Fuzellier said from her home in Paraguay, which she is still trying to save in the face of financial and career ruin.

Kolping fired Fuzellier and launched an unabated retaliation campaign that included public humiliation, smearing her reputation, dubious criminal charges, and using questionable legal tactics to limit her ability to travel. For several years, she was legally banned from leaving Paraguay – even to visit her children and grandchildren in her native Germany.

In June, Paraguay’s Supreme Court threw out the last of the criminal charges. “They have lost completely. It’s totally over now,” said Fuzellier, who could have been imprisoned for 3-5 years if convicted. “I feel a lot of relief. I was really worried about it. It wasn’t easy. I wasn’t sure at all that I would get a fair trial, because Paraguay is such a corrupt country. In the end I didn’t run. I faced the problem. It was horrible. My friends helped me get through it.”

The charity was founded in 1850 by Father Adolph Kolping, a beatified Catholic priest who spent decades building dozens of non-profit “Kolping Houses” throughout Germany where wandering workers could find refuge. Over the past few decades, however, Kolping and its hundreds of affiliates around the world have pursued a markedly more business-oriented model.

Supported by tens of millions of euros in public funds, Kolping has built vast webs of intertwined for-profit and non-profit companies, the Berlin Spectator reported last year. Exploiting a loophole in Germany’s tax laws, many non-profit organizations under the Kolping umbrella have invested money in for-profit enterprises.

Kolping’s profit-making enterprises include upscale hotels and resorts in many countries, consulting companies, a clothing recycler, a coffee company, a publishing company and various service providers with vague mandates. These for-profit companies have amassed millions of euros in profit reserves over many years.

The European Center for Whistleblower Rights has requested German lawmakers and officials to examine Kolping’s finances, but they continue to provide millions of euros in taxpayer funds to the organization.

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