Two trustees ‘intentionally abused charity for criminal purposes’, regulator concludes

Two former trustees of Afghan Poverty Relief have been ordered to repay more than £400,000 by the courts after mismanaging the charity and stealing hundreds of thousands of pounds intended for disadvantaged people.

Details of the case have been published in a Charity Commission report this week following the regulator’s investigation into the couple’s role at the charity.

This details how the Commission’s inquiry opened in 2011 after concerns were raised by police into financial transactions between the couple and the charity.
The Commission also found that the couple failed to keep adequate records and many receipts were undated.

“It was not possible to reconcile donations recorded as having been received by the charity with deposits into the charity’s accounts,” said the regulator.

Over the four years to 2011 it emerged that more than £254,000 was withdrawn from the charity’s account and more than £215,000 was paid into personal and business accounts linked to the couple.

The couple, Mr Syed Hajnajafi and Ms Akila Kassam, who were married to each other, were convicted in 2014.

Hajnajafi was found guilty of theft and sentenced to five years in prison, while Kassam was found guilty of four counts of fraud and one of theft and sentenced to three years imprisonment.

Both have been disqualified from being trustees, or holding senior roles within charities. Afghan Poverty Relief has since been wound up, by a Commission appointed interim manager. Remaining assets have been transferred to another charity to fund an Afghanistan orphanage that had previously been supported by
Afghan Poverty Relief.

At the time of the Police’s investigation, there were a total of four trustees. The Police’s investigation did not involve the charity’s other two trustees, says the Charity Commission.

“Charity represents the best of human characteristics – that’s why the behaviour and conduct of those involved in charities matters,” said Charity Commission assistant director of investigations and inquiries Tim Hopkins.

“This charity was set up to support vulnerable and disadvantaged people, including orphans in Afghanistan.

“Instead of ensuring donations received by the charity were applied for charitable purposes, two of its then trustees abused and exploited it for criminal purposes. In doing so, they committed criminal offences, breached charity law and exhibited behaviours which fell far below the legal and public expectations of how trustees should behave.

“I am pleased that our investigation has helped bring those individuals to justice, and that, together with the police and the interim manager, we have ensured significant sums, that would otherwise have been lost, were returned to charity”.

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