Notre Dame repair bills being footed by US donors as French tycoons who promised billions are yet to contribute a cent

Notre Dame repair bills being footed by US donors as French tycoons who promised billions are yet to contribute a cent

Ever since the devastating April 15 fire that gutted Notre Dame in France, American citizens have been primarily footing the bills and paying salaries for nearly 150 workers employed at the cathedral for its reconstruction.

Surprisingly, the French billionaire donors, who publicly promised extravagant donations amounting to hundreds of millions to rebuild the cathedral, have not yet paid a penny towards its restoration, according to church officials.

Friends of Notre Dame, a charitable foundation through which US donors have been contributing, handed over its first payment for the cathedral's reconstruction this month, amounting to 3.6 million euros ($4 million).

A senior press official at Notre Dame, Andre Finot, said: "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," Fox News reported.

Flames and smoke are seen billowing from the roof at Notre-Dame Cathedral on April 15, 2019 in Paris, France. A fire broke out on Monday afternoon and quickly spread across the building, collapsing the spire. (Getty Images)

A combined donation amount of nearly $1 billion was promised towards rebuilding the historic French structure by some of France's richest and most powerful families and companies. In the days after the blaze, many of them even sought to outbid each other in terms of donation, prompting heavy criticism. 

The parent company of Kering that owns Gucci and Saint Laurent, Francois Pinault of Artemis, had reportedly promised 100 million euros, while the CEO of French energy company Total, Patrick Pouyanne, had vowed that his firm would match that figure.

The CEO of luxury giant LVMH that owns Louis Vuitton and Dior, Bernard Arnault, had pledged 200 million euros towards the cause with Bettencourt Schueller Foundation of the L'Oreal fortune matching the same figure.

Finot, however, said that no money has been seen of the pledged amount, stating that the donors are waiting to see how the reconstruction plans pans out and are fighting over contract terms. 

Reports state that the work at the cathedral has been continuing for weeks with no legal financial mechanism in place to pay the workers. The cathedral, so far, has been relying on the charity foundation to fund the first phase of reconstruction.

The president of the Friends of Notre Dame de Paris, Michel Picaud, said that according to the estimates nearly 90 percent of the donations his foundation has received for the cause have come from American donors. 

In this handout image provided by Brigade de sapeurs-pompiers de Paris, firefighters battle the blaze at Notre-Dame Cathedral on April 15, 2019 in Paris, France. (Getty Images)


"Americans are very generous toward Notre Dame and the monument is very loved in America. Six out of our 11 board members are residents in the US," Picaud said.

The workers at the cathedral are reportedly creating a wooden walkway to gain access to remove the 250 tons of burnt-out scaffolding that had been installed for the restoration of the spire.

The workers are also at risk of lead poisoning as according to Paris' regional health agency, an estimated 300 tons of lead that made up the roof melted was released into the atmosphere during the blaze as toxic dust spread around the island with high levels of lead detected in the soils and in administrative buildings.

They will eventually replace the existing plastic protection with a bigger, more robust "umbrella" roof. Finot said that this process is set to take months and will be paid for entirely by the Friends of Notre Dame and other foundations.

The news comes as the French parliament is passing back and forth amendments to a new law that would create a "public body" to expedite the cathedral's restoration and circumvent some of the country's famously complex labor laws. French President Emmanuel Macron has said that the restoration work should be completed with a five-year deadline.

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