UK charity behind Afghanistan animal evacuation Operation Ark cleared of wrongdoing

Nowzad investigated by Charity Commission over priorities and financial concerns

Nowzad, the charity set up by former Royal Marine Pen Farthing to help rescue animals in Afghanistan, has been cleared of wrongdoing by the aid regulator. PA
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A charity which was heavily criticised over its evacuation of rescue animals from Afghanistan has been cleared of any wrongdoing by the UK regulator.

Nowzad, which was set up by former Royal Marine Pen Farthing, had raised £200,000 ($240,500) in the days after the Taliban takeover for its Operation Ark project to fly about 200 animals to safety.

Operation Ark was set up to evacuate British citizens, military staff members and their immediate families, as well as the animals in the charity's care.

It attracted public attention after concerns were raised that high-ranking government officials had prioritised the evacuation of the animals over people. At one point Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said the move was distracting authorities from focusing on the most vulnerable.

Former diplomat Raphael Marshall last year told the Foreign Affairs Select Committee: “There was a direct trade-off between transporting Nowzad’s animals and evacuating British nationals and Afghan evacuees, including Afghans who had served with British soldiers.”

This was due, he said, to the limited number of soldiers available to bring eligible people into the airport at Kabul and limited capacity within the airport itself.

The Charity Commission started investigating Nowzad in August 2021.

The case examined whether the its actions and Operation Ark were within Nowzad’s remit and complied with charity law.

"The Commission did not identify any regulatory concerns about Operation Ark, concluding that it did fall within the charity’s purposes," it said.

"The Commission concluded that the objectives of the operation were made clear to donors during fund-raising, that trustees’ decision-making and actions during that time were reasonable, and that consequently it was valid to spend funds raised for Operation Ark on the evacuation of animals and staff from Afghanistan.

"It was not within the Commission’s remit to consider the role the government may or may not have had in the evacuation of animals and staff from Afghanistan."

The Commission says it has advised the charity on a number of issues, including internal governing and effective risk management while operating in conflict zones.

Tracy Howarth, assistant director of casework and proactive regulation at the Charity Commission, said: "We take all concerns raised with us seriously and will always assess them impartially and expertly against the Commission’s own criteria and the law. In this case, we did not find evidence of wrongdoing and recognised the trustees’ ongoing efforts to manage the charity under difficult circumstances.

"We have provided Nowzad’s trustees with guidance to help ensure they respond appropriately to the uncertainty and challenges they now face."

Nowzad operated an animal clinic, dog and cat shelter and donkey sanctuary in Afghanistan and had trained and employed local residents, including women, as vets.

Pen Farthing with a rescued dog. Photo: Pen Farthing / Twitter

Mr Farthing said he has suffered 11 months' of stress due to the inquiry.

"11 months of stress, what you don’t know is as well as press issues the charity commission launched a case against Nowzad," he tweeted.

"It concluded today July 2022 and obviously no wrong doing to be found (they investigated so much more than just Operation Ark)."

In May, a report from the Foreign Affairs Committee ruled out that the charity's animals had received special treatment from the government.

It had investigated whether government officials, acting on the orders of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, gave Nowzad special treatment during the international withdrawal from Kabul.

After the report, Mr Farthing said: “We are pleased that the Committee’s findings unequivocally corroborated Nowzad’s long-standing testimony that we were not prioritised for evacuation during the government’s withdrawal from Kabul, nor did we seek special status or favour from government officials.

“The report allows us to move on from this distraction and resume focus on our mission of restarting our animal welfare operation in Afghanistan and developing our humanitarian animal welfare response to the horrific Russian invasion of Ukraine.”

Updated: July 20, 2022, 10:30 AM
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