UK charity trustee banned after £20,000 Syrian aid cash discovery at airport

Former trustees of an aid charity were responsible for 'misconduct and mismanagement', watchdog finds

The UK charity watchdog has banned a former trustee of a British aid organisation after he was caught with £20,000 at Manchester Airport.

A three-year investigation into the Leicester-based charity ANO, also called Aid for the Needy and Oppressed, found that its former trustees were responsible for misconduct and mismanagement over a period of years.

It was triggered after one trustee, who has not been identified, was arrested by police officers at Manchester Airport carrying large sums of cash in December 2016.

He has now been disqualified for three years.

The charity had said the money was for purchasing aid in Turkey for the benefit of Syrian refugees and the police later returned it to them.

The inquiry by the UK's Charity Commission found that the former trustees placed the charity’s funds at "unjustifiable risk" by couriering £30,725 in cash within a two-month period.

Cash had been also been couriered in the same way a month earlier.

The investigation also discovered that more than £100,000 was transferred from the charity’s bank accounts to trustees, employees and volunteers between March 2015 and April 2017.

The inquiry found that the funds were withdrawn and taken to money transfer companies for the charity’s partners overseas.

It also discovered a failure to declare money in excess of €10,000 when leaving the European Union.

The Commission opened an inquiry in April 2017 over inadequacies in the charity’s due diligence, risk assessment and monitoring of funds.

It found that a project run by the charity, which was operating on the Turkish/Syrian border, was planned without acceptable due diligence on the partner organisation or a sufficient risk assessment for the trustee travelling to a high-risk area.

Officials also gave money to a partner charity in Somalia and relied on videos and photographs of individuals receiving sums of cash but failed to sufficiently check how the money was spent or who received it.

The Commission ruled that the conduct of the former trustees "fell below" the behaviours and standards expected of trustees and say it placed the charity and its assets at risk.

Tim Hopkins, Assistant Director of Investigations, Monitoring and Enforcement at the Charity Commission, said: "Our inquiry found that the former trustees were reckless with charity funds. Former trustees failed to carry out adequate due diligence on overseas operations and partners, operating in high-risk areas without adequate risk assessment, and cash couriering, a practice discouraged by the Commission.

"The reckless conduct of one former trustee warranted further action and they have rightly been disqualified."

The objectives of ANO, which is now being run by a new set of trustees, are to relieve suffering in Leicestershire, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malawi and Turkey.