British charity whose employee had connections to Al Qaeda is banned

Watchdog removes Syria aid charity after police seized its cash at UK borders

This picture taken on August 28, 2020 shows an aerial view of Syrians gathering for a demonstration by the ruins of a building that was hit in prior bombardment and adorned with a giant flag of the Syrian opposition, in the town of Ariha in the rebel-held northwestern Idlib province.  / AFP / Omar HAJ KADOUR
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A British aid group whose representative had links to Al Qaeda has been removed from the UK charity register after it failed to account for £3 million (Dh14.7m) worth of aid.

Aid Convoy is the latest Muslim charity to be investigated by regulators over governance and accounting issues.

Last week, Islamic Relief Worldwide was forced to restructure after revelations that its trustees had shown support for Hamas and Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood on social media.

On Friday, the Charity Commission announced it had removed Aid Convoy from its register.

The charity, which launched in 2012, was involved in the organisation of aid convoys to the border between Turkey and Syria.

One of its workers, Tauqir Sharif, was deprived of his UK citizenship by the Home Secretary in 2017 because it was assessed that he had travelled to Syria and was working with Al Qaeda.

He was the face of the charity's social media videos accounting for the aid sent to Syria.

Despite being told to review the charity’s relationship with him, the trustees told the commission “this is not a decision we are willing to rush into”.

Also in 2017, the charity shipped 48 containers purporting to contain £3m of aid that was not accounted for.

The watchdog found the charity guilty of misconduct and mismanagement and disqualified two of its trustees, Muhammed Abdul Mumin and Asim Shafaq, from being trustees or senior managers of any charity in England and Wales for eight years.

"The action we have taken here, on behalf of the public, has protected the charity sector from further harm and held the responsible individuals to account," said Tim Hopkins, Assistant Director of Inquiries and Investigations at the Charity Commission.

"But this case highlights the damaging effects of trustees failing to properly safeguard or protect a charity from associations with terrorism. Ultimately, the trustees did not honour the trust donors placed in them by giving generously to help people affected by the crisis in Syria.

"Good governance is not a bureaucratic detail – it underpins the delivery of a charity’s purpose to the high standards required under charity law and which the public rightly expect.

"The trustees failed to live up to those standards, committing repeated acts of mismanagement and misconduct, and aligning the charity to individuals whose past conduct posed a threat to their charity."

The regulator uncovered a series of examples of mismanagement over the course of two inquiries.

These included repeated non-compliance with reporting requirements, significant under-reporting of its income, the provision of false or misleading information to the regulator, and the use of trustees’ personal bank accounts when the charity’s bank withdrew its services.

The regulator found that in the 2017 financial year, trustees said the charity had sent 48 containers of aid to Syria, valued at an average of £60,000 each, but could not provide adequate records of what was in those containers.

"There was a risk that because the trustees do not know what is included in each container, they could not accurately account for the end use of the donated goods," it said.

"The trustees fail to keep accurate records of what goods are loaded into containers, therefore are unable to assess whether all goods are accounted for once the container reached Syria, and that they have not fallen into the hands of terrorist organisations."

The first inquiry was opened in 2013 following two cash seizures by the police at UK ports.

As a result of the police investigation and the inquiry, the charity suspended all aid convoys.

The regulator then found serious concerns about the charity’s financial management and took action to freeze its bank account.

Further probes found severe weaknesses in the charity’s processes for ensuring monies and goods went to the people the charity was set up to help.

In 2016, the regulator issued an order directing the then trustees to take steps to improve the charity’s governance and financial management.

A second inquiry was opened in 2018 after the charity’s then trustees failed to comply with it.

The second inquiry found that the charity was handling donations of controlled substances, including morphine, without the required licence.

"These were collected in appeals for shipments to Syria but the trustees did not know what was included in containers and so could not account for the end use of donations or be sure that they did not fall into the hands of terrorist organisations," it said.