A London-based Syria aid group linked to one of the accused in the 2004 Madrid train bombings was found responsible of serious mismanagement by the UK Charity Commission, it was announced on Friday.
Syria Aid’s website, and the company’s governing document, referred to the organisation as a charity and acknowledged the Commission as its regulator. Yet, the trustee took no steps to apply for registration as a charity, as is required by law.
Mouhannad Almallah Dabas, who was suspected of involvement in the 2004 Madrid railway bombings and was killed in late 2013 near the Syrian city of Homs, was appointed as one of the trustees in February 2013.
Despite being on the intelligence watchlist and being member of a charity that was already under investigation over its handling of funds donated for relief project, Mr Dabas was able to travel to Syria.
In 2007, he was put on trial for his involvement in the 2004 Madrid terrorist attack, which killed 191 people and wounded more than 1,800 train commuters.
The brothers were believed to have been linked to the extremist organisation Jabhat al-Nusra.
His brother, Moutaz Almallah Dabas – also a trustee of the purported charity – was also arrested in connection to the terrorist attack.
The UK inquiry established the transfer of £7,824 to the bank account of a second charity, Aid Convoy, for the purchase of two ambulances in July 2013.
These vehicles were then reportedly transferred to a third charity engaged in an aid convoy to Syria.
During the investigation, the trustee did not co-operate, and, significantly, it was not possible to establish whether Syria Aid undertook any charitable activity, the inquiry concluded.
The Commission froze the bank accounts holding charitable funds and formally requested the restitution of the charitable funds already spent. However, the trustee was found to have no visible income or assets and therefore the Commission decided it could not yet pursue restitution.
Michelle Russell, Director of Investigations, Monitoring and Enforcement at the Charity Commission, said “those who gave generously to Syria Aid legitimately expected that their money would help people in urgent need. Sadly, our inquiry found no evidence that any funds reached the people they were purportedly raised for. This is clearly an abuse of public trust and what it means to be a charity.”
“The individual responsible has rightly been disqualified from acting as a trustee, but the publication of this inquiry should also serve to deter others who might be tempted to misuse charity,” she added.