Our British correspondent JP takes a jaundiced look at the UK Charity Commission. As evidence of the watchdog group’s utter toothlessness, he points to the continued existence of the “charity” Interpal, which is able to continue its activities as a front for Hamas without significant interference from the Charity Commission.
Feeble, Hopeless and a Charade: the UK Charity Commission
One of the few successes of the Pontius Pilate-like charity watchdog, the Charity Commission, was the closure in 2009 of the Freshbrook Community Centre in Swindon for failing to submit its accounts on time. Here, harmless activities such as bingo and ballroom dancing for old-aged pensioners were among the attractions on offer.
From the point of the view of the Charity Commissars, one might suspect that such activities did not come up to scratch when compared to genuine charitable activities such as beheading infidels and self-detonating in public places.
In written evidence supplied to the UK’s Parliamentary Public Affairs Committee, the Charity Commission responded with an aggrieved air to suggestions that it had not been sufficiently robust in regulating the charity sector:
The Commission takes concerns about terrorist abuse of charities very seriously and acts robustly to deal with this issue. Where there are concerns about suspected terrorist abuse connected to a charity, the Commission will always liaise with and work closely with the police and the security services-sometimes on their advice we have to let the police and law enforcement agencies do their work first and delay our action, instead coming in later. Sometimes we work alongside other agencies, always mindful of the need to take care and do nothing that would hamper or prejudice a criminal investigation.
However, one of the conclusions of the Public Affairs Committee: Forty-Second Report: The Charity Commission, 29 January 2014, states:
The Commission has not regulated the charity sector effectively. The Commission has placed insufficient emphasis on the monitoring and investigation of charities relying mainly on receiving information from others, rather than actively generating its own information and intelligence to identify risks in individual charities. The Commission is too willing to accept what charities tell it, without verifying or challenging the claims made, and it does not appropriately prioritise its limited resources to investigate the most serious cases of potential abuse of charitable status. In the last 3 years, the Commission has not removed any trustees, it has only suspended a trustee twice and it has only restricted charities from entering into specific transactions 17 times when it is responsible for overseeing 165,000 charities. The Commission has continued to make poor use of its powers, its internal processes and whether, for example, with the Cup Trust or the Afghan Heroes investigations are too slow and inefficient, and when faced with clear cases of abuse, it has failed to act promptly and robustly, or use the full range of powers to intervene that it has available.
Harry’s Place in December 2013 pre-empted the Public Affairs Committee’s not fit for purpose conclusions of 2014:
Interpal is in fact the core of the Hamas network in the UK. But the Charity Commission has not stopped Interpal and it appears that it never will. This is because the Commission is the weakest link of the UK counter-terrorism chain. Its rhetoric is worthless and it is plainly not fit for purpose.
Here is what the Charity Commission had to say about Interpal:
At the conclusion of our most recent inquiry into Interpal in 2009 we issued the charity with an order to carry out a review of the trustees’ due diligence and monitoring procedures, to dissociate the charity from the Union for Good, and to ensure that no trustee holds any office or role with the Union for Good. We monitored the charity’s compliance with the order closely, meeting with the trustees and their advisers on several occasions and seeking evidence to verify their assurances. We also conducted an onsite monitoring visit, inspecting records to ensure the processes and procedures as outlined in the charity’s Partnership and Funding Operations manual were being applied, suitable records maintained by the trustees to demonstrate the effectiveness of their decision making and that the trustees were properly exercising their trustee duties to safeguard the charity’s assets.
And this is what John Ware found in 2006 in a BBC Panorama report titled Faith, Hope and Charity:
Panorama explores out how a UK charity’s donations have helped build support for Hamas, which is regarded by Europe and America as a terrorist organisation. John Ware investigates the London-based charity Interpal which gives funds to charities on the West Bank which help needy Palestinians. Panorama reveals some of these charities are linked to Hamas and help build support for the movement by spreading its Islamist ideology.
At the UK’s Charity Commission it is always Groundhog Day — time after time concerns are raised over the charitable activities of Interpal, the Charity Commission conducts a desultory review, issues an anodyne report, and terrorist activities continue unchecked. Such is the state of affairs. While there may be grounds for optimism that the latest Parliamentary report spurs reform at the Charity Commission, it must be admitted that Interpal itself is too firmly anchored within the UK’s political culture for any meaningful change to take place.
Written evidence submitted by the Home Office [CT 04b] Letter from James Brokenshire MP, Security Minister, to the Chair of the Committee, 3 October 2013 (pdf):
27. The conviction in February 2013 of three individuals for raising money for terrorist purposes by posing as charity fundraisers, underlined the importance of the role of the Charity Commission, the charity regulator in England and Wales, in countering terrorism and extremism. Traditionally, the Commission has focused on regulatory monitoring and compliance. We have been working closely with the Commission and its new chair William Shawcross to look at how it can take a tougher line with those who seek to abuse the sector for terrorist purposes, including through more effective and targeted use of its existing powers against charities of CT concern. Where necessary we will seek to enhance those powers to improve the Commission’s ability to regulate the sector as a whole. 28. Working with the Home Office, law enforcement and other partners, the Commission has already increased the number of compliance visits it conducts into charities of CT concern, both to identify and investigate abuse by terrorists and to improve awareness of and increase resilience to such abuse. As part of that awareness-raising the Commission has published guidance to the sector on stopping extremist speakers and monitoring charitable funds, including its successful ‘Safer Giving’ campaigns. More recently, it has run workshops on sending aid to Syria and other high risk areas. Internationally, we will continue to work with the Commission and other partners to improve its visibility of charities’ activities – and of their financial footprints- overseas.
From Harry’s Place, 12 Dec 2013:
Interpal is in fact the core of the Hamas network in the UK. But the Charity Commission has not stopped Interpal and it appears that it never will.
This is because the Commission is the weakest link of the UK counter-terrorism chain. Its rhetoric is worthless and it is plainly not fit for purpose. [My emphasis]
From Harry’s Place, 21 Sep 2009:
The Charity Commission has finally struck a blow against wicked miscreants. The Freshbrook Community Centre in Swindon has lost its charitable status and been closed. Its offence? It did not file its accounts on time. What a triumph for Dame Suzi Leather and the Righteous.
From 2006, John Ware’s investigation of the charity Interpal:
Faith, Hate and Charity
Panorama explores out how a UK charity’s donations have helped build support for Hamas, which is regarded by Europe and America as a terrorist organisation.
John Ware investigates the London-based charity Interpal which gives funds to charities on the West Bank which help needy Palestinians.
The Charity Commission’s response, in 2009:
The Charity Commission has criticised the London-based Palestinian charity Interpal for claiming it has been “vindicated” by the Commission’s inquiry into Panorama’s allegations that charity funds had gone to organisations promoting Hamas ideology in Gaza and the West Bank.
Interpal probably would have been closed down in a sane society, but they continue to poison the landscape.