Accessibility links

Breaking News

Chechen Separatist Leader Urges Actress To Prove Charitable Donation

Hilary Swank (right) with Belgian actor Jean-Claude Van Damme (center) and Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov (left) at the latter's lavish birthday party last year.
When Hilary Swank humbly apologized for attending the birthday party of Chechnya's strongman leader last October and pledged to donate her six-figure fee to charity, the Hollywood actress hoped the PR disaster would die down.

Swank had come under intense fire for enthusiastically endorsing Ramzan Kadyrov at his lavish 35th birthday party on October 5, hailing the "passion to make peace" of a man accused by human rights organizations of overseeing a campaign of abductions, torture, and murders.

But some of Swank's detractors are not ready to let the matter drop so quickly.

The controversy reemerged this week when Chechen separatist leader Akhmed Zakayev, who lives in exile in London, asked the Oscar-winning actress to prove she had made good on her promised financial donations.

"Many directors of humanitarian and human rights organizations dealing with Chechen issues have asked me about it," he wrote in a letter dated February 13.

Zakayev recommended five rights groups, including Russia's prominent Memorial, as possible recipients if it turns out that Swank failed to make the donations.

"I strongly believe that celebrities like Hilary Swank have no moral right to encourage crimes committed by criminal regimes, regardless of where they are," he said.

'Detached From Reality'

While Zakayev expressed his "respect and gratitude" to Swank for acknowledging the paid trip to Grozny was a mistake, he cast doubt on the actress's claim that she had never heard of Kadyrov before attending the party:

"This is what most outraged me and others who follow this situation. It's impossible for her not to have known.
Chechen separatist leader Akhmed Zakayev
Chechen separatist leader Akhmed Zakayev

"This situation did not begin today or yesterday, it has been going on for 20 years. Newspapers have been writing about it.

"People simply don't have the right to detach themselves like this from reality, from the world -- even celebrities."

Swank's spokeswoman said in a statement that the actress had fulfilled her pledge to donate her earnings, but refused to cite a sum or identify the recipients.

Swank has yet to publicly respond to Zakayev's letter.

Written by Claire Bigg with reporting from RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service