Charity criticised by regulator over financial arrangements with the 'Vicar of Baghdad’

Poverty relief charity CAWRM has been criticised by the regulator for a raft of failures involving unauthorised payments and conflicts of interest among its trustees and with its ambassador Canon Andrew White, known as the ‘Vicar of Baghdad’.

Among concerns raised in a Charity Commission inquiry, which launched in 2018, was the trustees’ financial relationship with White, who has been disqualified from being a trustee for 12 years.

“The inquiry found that the founding trustees had held charitable funds in Canon White’s personal bank account for a period while the charity was unable to open a bank account,” found the Commission.

“No safeguards were in place to ring fence the charitable funds from his personal money. This failing led to the ambassador owing the charity money but due to inadequate record-keeping the founding trustees were unable to confirm how much.”

In addition, it emerged during the investigations that books written by Canon White and funded by the charity were sold and promoted at events he attended as an ambassador for CAWRM, which is also known as Jerusalem Merit.

“Whilst the trustees understood that Canon White would donate funds raised from the book sales to the charity, they did not have a written agreement in place for this and the inquiry has not seen evidence that any funds were donated,” said the Commission.

Also “significant sums” were found to have been spent on overseas consultants and a school in Jordan “without clarity of what this was for”. These arrangements predated the creation of the charity and had been set up by Canon White, who is a former chaplain of St George’s church in Baghdad

The Charity Commission added: “The inquiry concluded that the founding trustees had not considered or managed the personal benefit to Canon White and did not always act independently of him, as was their legal duty.”

Canon White’s disqualification as a trustee related to his conduct at another charity, says the regulator.

White resigned as president and trustee of Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East (FRRME) in 2016. FRRME was later criticised by the regulator over payments made to an Islamic State terrorist group to secure the release of two hostages.

Further financial concerns

The Charity Commission also found that CAWRM paid a company, Ace White Gold, more than £14,000 to provide PAYE services.

However, this company was connected to all of the charity’s founding trustees “in some way”, the regulator found.

The Commission added: “The founding trustees did not have a written agreement in place and no legal advice was sought around the service agreement with the company.

“An interim manager who was appointed by the Commission to review the relationship between the charity and Ace White Gold concluded that the agreement was not in the best interests of the charity.”

Other concerns focused on how one founding trustee received unauthorised payments of more than £15,000 providing services to the charity. The Commission points out that this trustee resigned “as soon as they became aware that this was unauthorised”.

Tim Hopkins, assistant director of investigations and inquiries at the Charity Commission said: “Our inquiry exposed a number of inappropriate arrangements and transactions which were overseen or permitted by the former trustees – including failures to manage the charity’s relationship with its ambassador, identify and manage conflicts of interest, and prevent private benefit.”

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