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News about Mormons, Mormonism,
and the LDS Church
Sent on Mormon-News: 28Jan02
By Kent Larsen
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Norweigan Ships Will Take SeaTrek Foundation to Court over Debts

OSLO, NORWAY -- The non-profit foundation that runs one of the Norweigan ships used in last summer's Sea Trek 2001 says it plans to take the Sea Trek Foundation to court over unpaid bills. The foundation behind one of the three ships, represented by its managing director, Per Langhelle, plans to file a complaint in a Norweigan city court in the next few days, seeking payment of the more than $750,000 owed to the ships. Langhelle claims his organization believed The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was behind the event, and therefore didn't seek as large an upfront payment as they normally require.

The non-profit Sea Trek Foundation was formed by LDS businessman and fundraiser William K. Sadleir of Salt Lake City specifically to recreate the voyage of some 85,000 Mormon converts from Europe to the U.S. in the latter half of the 19th century. The event was very successful, attracting large crowds and positive attention to the LDS Church in nearly a dozen European ports before the ships sailed for the U.S.

But almost from the beginning the foundation, which was never supported by the LDS Church, faced financial difficulties. Sadleir first raised a $1 million donation from LDS entrepreneur and multi-millionaire David Huber, one of the world's wealthiest Mormons, and then persuaded him to give an additional $1.9 million for a total of nearly 60% of the $5 million budget for the event.

Huber is the founder and CEO of Corvis Inc., an optical networking company that went public in July 2000 and attracted national attention because the market valued the company at more than $28 billion. That valuation instantly made Huber the world's wealthiest Mormon, with a personal fortune valued by Forbes magazine, on paper, at $8 billion. However, within six months Covis' stock price declined from a high of more than $100 a share to less than $5 a share, and Huber's fortune declined with it.

But in spite of Huber's generosity, the foundation needed high bookings from those that wished to travel on the ships. Those bookings never materialized, and Sadlier kept putting off paying the bills to the ships' managers. When the ships reached the Canary Islands, the ships required Sadlier to come up with an additional $350,000 before continuing. When Sadlier managed to get between $250,000 and $300,000 in donations and bank guarantees from several individuals, two of the ships agreed to continue, finishing the voyage to New York City on the promise that Sea Trek would make payment there.

Now the situation has left the SeaTrek Foundation and the ships' owners on the verge of a court case over the outstanding debts. And both the owners and SeaTrek's Sadlier claim that the Church's relationship to the project is an issue. Langhelle, managing director of the foundation that owns the "Christian Radich," notes that while the LDS Church may not have been involved in the SeaTrek Foundation, the Church in Norway and other parts of Europe were very prominent and involved. The SeaTrek Foundation's efforts were highly coordinated with the Church's public relations efforts for the events, so much so that Langhelle says, "Technically, it (the LDS Church) is not a member of the Sea Trek project. However, it would take an expert to separate the church and project over here."

That involvement may now be giving the Church some negative press in Norway. Last week Norway's Aftenposten newspaper ran a front page story on the debts with the headline, "Faith in Mormons lands tall ships in court," and suggesting that the ships' owners believed that LDS Church involvement meant they would be paid.

SeaTrek organizer Bill Sadlier says that while the LDS Church wasn't involved in his organization, it did benefit from the events, and on that basis he asked the LDS Church for assistance in meeting the project's $5 million budget. According to Sadlier, the Church was ready to donate $500,000 when SeaTrek faced a financial crisis while the ships were in the Canary Islands, but bad press reports in Norway scuttled the plans. He remains upset that the Church hasn't decided to help financially, "The church got all the benefits but didn't do squat," Sadleir told the Salt Lake Tribune. "It has no problem forking over millions to defend child molesters or build medals plazas, but they won't help us out with something as positive as Sea Trek."

LDS Church spokesman Dale Bills confirmed that the Church hasn't given SeaTrek any financial assistance, "Sea Trek was a private venture not sponsored by the church. From the outset, the church has declined all requests from Sea Trek organizers for financial support."

Now the owners of the tall ships claim that they face financial difficulties themselves if the debts aren't paid. Some crew members of the ships are being laid off, they report, and Leif Brestrup, director of the foundation that operates another of the three Norweigan ships, says his organization is in the red because of SeaTrek and is having difficulty continuing its operations.

Sadlier dismisses the threat of a court case as bullying, but adds he is continuing his efforts to raise funds to pay the debt, "The only way they are going to get paid is if we raise the money." And some members of the LDS Church in Norway are trying to help. In a letter he is circulating among Mormons there, Church member Robert Luke of Bergen, Norway writes, "Let us join hands and pay this debt," Luke wrote. "The Sea Trek event has done a world of PR good for northern Europe."


Sea Trek Foundation in Troubled Waters
Salt Lake Tribune 24Jan02 N6
By Peggy Fletcher Stack: Salt Lake Tribune

Sea Trek may sail again -- into court
Deseret News 24Jan02 N6
By Lynn Arave: Deseret News staff writer

Norway's Tall Ships take Mormons to court over Sea Trek fiasco
Oslo Norway Post 23Jan02 N6
By Rolleiv Solholm

Faith in the Mormons lands Tall Ships in court
Oslo Norway Aftenposten Nettutgaven 22Jan02 N6
By Nina Berglund


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