Regulator opens case into charity with links to Boris Johnson over Putin donations

The Charity Commission has opened a compliance case into the charity Downside Up, whose patrons include Prime Minister Boris Johnson, over funding it has received from Russian president Vladimir Putin.

The charity, which supports people with Down Syndrome in Russia, is in talks with the regulator amid concerns around donations made to the charity through Putin’s Presidential Grants Fund.

According to the charity’s accounts for the year ending June 2020 it received £263,993 in Russian government grants. This included funding from the Russian Presidential Grants Fund as well as the Committee of Public Relations of Moscow Government.

Projects money from the Presidential Fund has been used to fund include training for psychologists and teachers in supporting families bringing up a child with genetic anomalies.

Another charity project supported through Putin's Fund is an information resource around ethics for those working with people with Down Syndrome.

The charity says that it is a “wholly apolitical and “like other charities with beneficiaries in Russia, wrestling urgently with what, if anything, it can do to continue to support those beneficiaries in the current situation”.

It confirmed that it is in “contact with the UK Charity Commission, who have asked for further information, and we will of course be cooperating fully with them”.

It added: “It is worth noting that Downside Up’s work in Russia is undertaken by a separate legal entity and monies donated in Russia to that Russian charity do not come via Downside Up.”

A Charity Commission spokeswoman added: “We are aware that Downside Up operates in Russia and has received funds from the Russian government. We have opened a case to engage with the trustees.”

As well as including Boris Johnson as a patron, the charity’s board includes Martin Thomas, who was forced to quit as Charity Commission chair days before taking up the role. He resigned after it emerged he was being investigated by a separate charity he had been chair of.

The Good Law Project raised concerns about Thomas and Johnson’s friendship and links through Downside Up late last year.

It revealed that while Johnson was Mayor of London in 2013, Thomas had gifted him an antique Russian ‘Takema’ watch.

Earlier this month the Charity Commission issued advice following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to charities working in Russia to they “know their donors, and consider whether or not to accept donations”.

“Many charities operate in Russia, and may come under increasing pressure as a result of the implications of sanctions, difficulties in transferring funds and because of the operating environment for civil society in that country,” it added.

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