UK charity watchdog finds 'little evidence' British politician's Gaza charity Viva Palestina ever provided any aid

UK's charity watchdog concludes George Galloway's Viva Palestina may not have conducted any charitable activity

Jordanians great British MP George Galloway as they wave to the aid convoy with flags and throwing flowers on their way near the border between Jordan and Syria on December 29, 2009. (Salah Malkawi for The National)
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A British charity set up to help people in Gaza may not have conducted any charitable activity or distributed any humanitarian aid, an investigation by the UK's charity watchdog has revealed.

The Viva Palestina charity was set up by former Respect and Labour MP George Galloway in 2009 to run aid convoys to Gaza.

But the UK's Charity Commission says its investigation has found “little or no evidence that humanitarian aid was distributed to those in need”.

It comes just days after Mr Galloway was sacked from his UK radio show for sending an anti-Semitic tweet after the Champions League final.

The watchdog had launched an investigation into Viva Palestina in 2013.

It has concluded that its trustees put publicly donated funds at risk as a result of their mismanagement and/or misconduct.

It revealed that the charity's shambolic financial records were so poor that “it was difficult to establish with any certainty whether any charitable activity had taken place”.

The regulator found that the trustees failed to fulfill their legal duties, which included maintaining proper financial records, safeguarding the charity’s assets, providing financial accounts and addressing concerns raised by the regulator.

Whilst the inquiry saw some evidence that monies had been used to purchase medical supplies in line with the charity’s objects, it was unable to establish if those in need had ever received it.

It discovered that "significant" charity funds, £33,274 (Dh155,161) had been used to purchase mobile phones and radios and that one of its former trustees had received payments from the charity.

In another incident it raised £3,258 (Dh15,192) in an appeal for cement but no cement was ever purchased.

Michelle Russell, Director of Investigations, Monitoring and Enforcement at the Charity Commission, said: “Our investigation into Viva Palestina found that it was a wholly inadequately managed charity.

“A trustee is by its name a trusted position, acting for the public benefit to help others. The public has a right to expect that those who serve as charity trustees take their responsibilities seriously, properly accounting for the charity’s income, assets, activities and its expenditure.

“This didn’t happen in the case of Viva Palestina. Our inquiry shows that the former trustees did not pay proper attention to the legal responsibilities involved in running a charity and handling funds donated by the public.

“We found little evidence that the intended beneficiaries received the support intended, despite the extensive fundraising by Viva Palestina. The former trustees thus badly let down the public to whom the charity is accountable.”

Viva Palestina was launched 10 years ago as a large scale fundraising campaign to finance aid convoys to Gaza.

It was during one of its aid missions in 2010 that Mr Galloway and his aid Ron McKay were deported by Egyptian authorities and refused entry to the Gaza Strip.

The watchdog discovered that the charity's founders did not originally apply to register the organisation as a charity; the Commission formed the view that it was a charity and must therefore be registered.

The Commission says it found a lack of clarity among the former trustees as to who was responsible for the charity’s day-to-day running. It concluded that the trustees “failed to act with reasonable care and skill in the control of their charity’s funds and the charity’s day-to-day management”, which it says amounts to misconduct and/or mismanagement.

The Charity Commission’s investigation opened in June 2013, three years after it published a report on a previous investigation into Viva Palestina.

In 2010, it had found that the charity was mismanaged after discovering it had raised less than a fifth of the £1m it had claimed to have raised in its first appeal.

The Commission initially sought to resolve its regulatory concerns outside of a formal inquiry, but opened a new inquiry when it was unable to obtain the necessary information.