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Tribunal judge criticises UK Charity Commission for serious errors

Added: (Tue Jan 25 2022)

Pressbox (Press Release) - See Tribunal Decision Notice: http://charity.decisions.tribunals.gov.uk/documents/CA-2020-0026_Decision_2021-11-23.pdf
A first-tier tribunal judge has severely criticized the UK Charity Commission for serious errors made during its Statutory Inquiry into UK faith-based Charity, Asthan Babe Ke Trust.
The statutory inquiry was launched in 2017 following complaints around bullying, unmanaged conflict of interests by a trustee who had set up his solicitors practice office at the Charity premises, and a set of serious financial irregularities.
Although the Commission verified these concerns during their investigation, the Commission chose to turn a blind eye on these forcing the Beneficiaries to take the matter to a first-tier tribunal, and in coming days, to the upper tier.
The Beneficiaries conducted a parallel investigation which revealed innumerable accounting failures. For example, over a period of more than 10 years, receipts had been manipulated to make it appear that the solicitor had been paying rent, invoices were made out to several third parties and close acquaintances of the solicitor/trustee and presented in the official Charity accounts, Charity payments had been made from “secret bank accounts”, donations were not being submitted in full to the Charity bank account, payments were being made with unknown credit cards and PayPal accounts, monthly cash payments were made to at least two illegal immigrants over the course of several years, rental income was not being declared over the course of fourteen years, there existed a prevailing cash culture where almost every payment was being made in cash, the Charity has benefitted from an illegal water connection and the Charity had not paid a water bill in more than fourteen years at one of it primary sites. When these irregularities were brought to the attention of Charity authorities, Beneficiaries were bullied and harassed. When two newly appointed trustees reported these issues to the Charity Commission, the trustees were advised to turn a blind eye.
The Charity accountants refused to cooperate, so the incoming trustees appointed an independent Chartered Accountant who provided an expert report confirming the seriousness of problems and risks to the Charity. This report was presented to the Tribunal.
Notwithstanding these irregularities, many acknowledged by the Commission, the Commission proceeded to appoint the two individuals at the centre of these irregularities to the position of trustee, effectively legitimising wrongdoing.
Specifically, the tribunal stated that: “She [Marie Joyce] accepted that there was financial mismanagement at the Charity and that “a cash culture was prevalent” which the Commission did not condone. She acknowledged that in appointing Mr Sehmi and Mr Jandu, the Commission had not followed its own guidance on Trustee appointment.” (para 50). The Tribunal proceeds to state that it has “considerable concerns about the process adopted by the Commission in appointing Mr Jandu and Mr Sehmi. The Tribunal found it unacceptable that the Commission carried out only basic criminal records checks on the nominated individuals and obtained only brief summaries of their roles at the Charity. The Tribunal did not accept that the Commission’s lack of resources was a sufficient excuse or justification for ignoring the “red flags” around the conduct of Mr Jandu and Mr Sehmi, in particular the “cash culture” which Miss Joyce accepted existed at the Charity. By appointing Mr Jandu and Mr Sehmi, the Commission had effectively endorsed their irregular practices. The justification set out in the Decision Review (paragraph 26 above) suggested that the Commission went for the “least worst” option by appointing the individuals with the least complaints made against them because it had limited alternative courses of action, rather than accepting that its entire process was flawed. The Tribunal wishes to express its concern that the Commission sees fit to compromise its regulatory duty in the name of expediency, even if it has limited resources at its disposal.” (para 59).
The Beneficiaries and two of the new trustees have asked for a meeting with the Charity Commission to agree a way forward, the Commission has responded to confirm that it will not prepared to or discuss the case any further and the trustees will need to resolve matters internally.
Mr Dhinsay said “it is shocking that after an inquiry lasting three years in which immeasurable resource and time has been applied by both the Charity Commission and the Beneficiaries, the Charity Commission has failed miserably in its statutory duty to uphold the confidence of the public. The investigating officer received open admissions of wrong doing, and chose to turn a blind eye on them. Moreover, the officer was presented with what would be described as obvious red flags, yet she chose to ignore. The Commission failed to apply the most basic investigative procedure. Indeed, even after I had presented detailed reports revealing very serious accounting irregularities, the Charity Commission ignored these and refused to meet with me. The whole matter raises very serious question marks about the integrity and validity of other inquiries, particularly those led by this investigative officer.”
He proceeded to express concern because the Charity Commission had “failed to engage with Beneficiaries of the Charity. They ignored reports of wrong-doing, legitimised wrongdoing and refused to meet with us to find better way forward in the interests of mitigation further risks and exposures to the Charity.”
Mrs Sahota, a trustee who helped bring these matters to the attention of the commission said that “it is disappointing that having expedited so much time and resource into the first inquiry, the matter had to go to Tribunal thereby attracting further time and resource. And now both the Commission and the Beneficiaries will have to apply more time and resource. Had the Commission listened to us in the first place we might not be here now.”

Contact: H Dhinsay

Submitted by:Harminder Dhinsay
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