The billionaire French tycoons who pledged hundreds of millions in financial aid to rebuild Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris after a devastating fire haven’t donated “a cent” so far, a senior cathedral official said.
Most of the funds for the cathedral’s restoration are now coming from American and French individuals, via Notre Dame charitable foundations, paying the bills and salaries for up to 150 workers employed by Notre Dame since an April 15 fire, ABC News reported. This month they are handing over the first private payment of $5.8 million for the cathedral’s reconstruction.
Michel Picaud, the president of the charity Friends of Notre Dame de Paris which was founded in 2017, said that 90 percent of the donations it had received had come from American donors.
“Americans are very generous toward Notre Dame and the monument is very loved in America”, Picaud said, adding that six out of 11 board members are residents in the US.
“The big donors haven’t paid. Not a cent. They want to know what exactly their money is being spent on and if they agree to it before they hand it over, and not just to pay employees’ salaries”, said Andre Finot, senior press official at Notre Dame.
In April right after the fire, more than $1 billion was promised by some of France’s richest and most powerful families and companies. Francois Pinault of Artemis, the parent company of Kering that owns Gucci and Saint Laurent, promised $163 million, with Patrick Pouyanne, CEO of French energy company Total, saying his firm would match that figure. Bernard Arnault, CEO of luxury giant LVMH that owns Louis Vuitton and Dior, pledged $327 million, as did the Bettencourt Schueller Foundation of the L’Oréal fortune.
However, according to Finot, none of this money has been seen, as donors wait to see how the reconstruction plans progress and the battle over contracts.
A spokesman for the Pinault Collection acknowledged that the Pinault family hadn’t yet handed over any money for the cathedral’s restoration, blaming it on a delay in contracts.
The LVMH Group and the Arnault family said in a statement they were signing an agreement with Notre Dame’s foundations and “the payments will be made as the work progresses”. The Bettencourt Schueller Foundation said it wanted to ensure its donation was spent on causes that fit the foundation’s specific ethos – to support craftsmanship in art.
Total has pledged to pay its $163 million via the Heritage Foundation, whose director-general Celia Verot confirmed that the multinational company had not paid anything yet.
“How the funds will be used by the state is the big question. It’s a voluntary donation, so the companies are waiting for the Government’s vision to see what precisely they want to fund”, Verot said in a statement.
Olivier de Challus, one of the cathedral’s chief guides and architecture experts, said one of the reasons why the wealthy French donors haven’t paid yet was that there were still so many uncertainties about the direction of the reconstruction work, as “the choices about the spire and the major architectural decisions will happen probably late in 2020″, and that’s when the money will be required.
The French Parliament, meanwhile, is debating amendments to a new law that would create a public body to expedite the restoration of the cathedral after French President Emmanuel Macron said the work should be completed within five years — a deadline many French architects say is overly ambitious. Macron has also appointed former army chief General Jean-Louis Georgelin to oversee the reconstruction processes.