Belle Gibson has traded heavily off her story as a young mother treating terminal brain cancer with nutrition and a healthy lifestyle.
Today the founder of popular food app the Whole Pantry is facing a backlash over unpaid charity proceeds and has been accused of deleting critical comments from the company's official social media pages.
Fairfax Media on Sunday revealed Ms Gibson, failed to hand over money raised through two charity drives in 2013 and 2014. Four of the five charities promoted as beneficiaries had no knowledge of the fundraising campaigns, which included a function and an online promotion promising to donate app sale proceeds.
Ms Gibson said the company had been unable to pass on money raised due to cashflow problems and had hired external accountants to manage its struggling finances. The Whole Pantry posted a detailed statement to its vast online following on Sunday night in which it said the company's books were not in order and that it fully intended to make the charitable payments.
"TWP's new business management and accounts team are working through the workload of bringing the accounts and business up to date and all charities have been openly communicated with and are aware of our intentions to uphold this financial support when the necessary keepings of the business are finalised," it said.
But the statement sparked a slew of criticism against The Whole Pantry and Ms Gibson. Followers said the company had deleted negative posts from its Facebook page and blocked those who questioned its fundraising activities on social media. Comments casting doubt over Ms Gibson's story of cancer survival are also believed to have been deleted. The Australian has since revealed that Ms Gibson is now claiming that her most recent cancer crisis is a "misdiagnosis" by a doctor that she won't name. Ms Gibson has also misled the media about her real age.
Readers described the company's fundraising activities as "appalling" and shameful. "Surely money pledged to flow direct to charitable purposes through you is completely irrelevant to cash flow," one post said. Another said: "The fact that you have failed to operate your start-up in a fashion consistent with profitability is not the problem of those charities whose good names you used in your marketing."
Ms Gibson, who has publicly claimed to have given away 25 per cent of her company's profits and in her new cook book writes that "a large part of everything" earned is donated to various causes, has been unable to provide a list of organisations that have received money or say how much has been donated to date.
In a recent magazine article, Ms Gibson wrote that what started as an initiative to give a large portion of app sales to rotating charities had "evolved to giving almost all profits". "We are working towards building two schools, have heavily invested in maternal health care and human rights, donate towards community based cafes and existing projects that nurture our local community, and give donations and support to families in the TWP community whose children need holistic support throughout their cancer or medical treatments."
Ms Gibson hosted a fundraiser in December 2013, but now denies it was a fundraising event, and said that the purpose of the function was to launch her new app. The invitation included promotional material listing three charities and the work they do, highlighting school building in Sierra Leone, support for mothers and their babies in developing countries, and protecting asylum seekers' human rights. It also said funds would go to a fourth cause – a terminally ill five-year-old boy who needed life-saving treatment overseas.
The invitation included a link to an external website, which referred to the event as "The Whole Pantry Community & Charity Celebrations", and gave supporters who were unable to attend in person the opportunity to buy "virtual tickets", valued at up to $100 a head. They were sold to dozens of people, including more than 20 whose donation amount is not specified, while guests who attended the St Kilda function donated cash.
"Ticket sales (donations) proceed towards the four charities our social media communities are passionate about, on top of their already donated TWP App download/purchase," the VIP invitation said. "$3 buys a birthing kit, $300 a school scholarship."
Ms Gibson said the donations raised at the event were between $750 and $800. Late last week, immediately after questions from Fairfax, The Whole Pantry paid out $1000 to Melbourne charity One Girl, but maintains this was not a "knee-jerk reaction". Prior to the payment, One Girl said it had repeatedly tried to contact Ms Gibson but had not heard from her about the missing donation.
The two other charities are yet to receive a payment from The Whole Pantry. Ms Gibson said cash raised was donated to sick child's family, but has provided no evidence of the transaction.
In the second campaign last May, The Whole Pantry pledged that proceeds from app sales would be donated to two charities, both of which confirmed they were unaware they had been named as beneficiaries until contacted by Fairfax. Neither has received a donation.
"Don't forget – for every app downloaded until this Sunday, your purchase goes straight to The 2h Project and the Bumi Sehat Foundation to prevent maternal and infant deaths," she said on social media during the campaign.
The Whole Pantry said on Monday that the money pledged during last year's campaign was still "being accounted for" and would be donated when the funds were "available". "This is in no way withholding donated money from a fundraiser. The money has been pledged, not collected as donations and will be paid as soon as is possible," the company said in a statement.
Ms Gibson earlier said she had decided to no longer include The 2h Project as a recipient of this campaign because only $2800 was raised and she felt this was not enough money to split between the two organisations.
Ms Gibson last year said $300,000 had already been given to charity but now says these contributions were never made because app sales had not been as high as forecast. Confirmed donations from Ms Gibson and her business total about $7000. These include a donation to an inner-city Melbourne cafe, last week's $1000 payment to One Girl, and a payment from Ms Gibson's boyfriend to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre last year as part of its food truck appeal.
The Whole Pantry claimed on Monday that there was "absolutely no basis" to reports that Ms Gibson had helped people dump conventional medicine to treat cancer. But in a social media post that has since been removed Ms Gibson said: "I gave up on conventional treatment when it was making my cancer more aggressive and started treating myself naturally. I have countless times helped others do the same, along with leading them down natural therapy for everything from fertility, depression, bone damage and other types of cancer."