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Madonna’s Malawi court battle with sacked charity school workers

Madonna has launched her legal case against a group of sacked workers after her plans to build a girls' school in the country were scrapped.

The eight workers claim they were sacked unfairly from the star’s Raising Malawi charity and not paid benefits they were entitled to.

"There is nothing unfair about the termination of the applicants' employment since termination of employment was necessitated by genuine economic reasons," Madonna insists in papers filed at the industrial relations court in Malawi’s commercial capital, Blantyre.

The Raising Malawi Academy for Girls project was cancelled in January amid allegations that the project's board of directors squandered millions on excessive salaries, free housing and chauffeur-driven cars. Building never started on the £9.4m school and the eight workers at her charity were sacked.

The singer, who has two adopted children from Malawian orphanages, David Banda and Mercy James, said the charity had proposed to pay the staff more than they were due provided they signed a "confidentiality agreement."

Madonna said Raising Milawi’s decision not to keep funding the academy was taken "after carefully reviewing its financial commitments and future plans and was made in good faith". She said the girl’s academy, backed by Hollywood figures and Madonna's associates in Kabbalah, "had tried to act reasonably and expediently to avoid frustrating the former workers."

The school’s chief executive Dr Anjimile Oponyo is leading the sacked workers. Auditors brought in by Madonna to rescue the charity, reportedly said Oponyo’s: "charisma masks a lack of substantive knowledge of the practical application of educational development, and her weak management skills are a major contributor to the current financial and programmatic chaos."

Announcing the project’s cancellation in January, Madonna said she was overhauling her plans. The academy was meant to offer 500 scholarships to girls from poor backgrounds. But she said she realised this would not help enough children in the south eastern African country where only 33 per cent of girls go to high school.

The singer said she wanted to "reach thousands and not hundreds" and would build on charity's mission and get a new management team in. "We are focused on an approach which builds schools within communities across the country."

Madonna funds several orphanages in Malawi, including the one near the capital from where she first adopted her son David, in 2006. Madonna’s charity feeds, clothes and houses 25,000 orphans in central Malawi.

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