A charity with high-profile support from former Labour and Respect MP George Galloway may not have spent any of its donations on charitable activities, a Charity Commission inquiry has concluded.
An investigation by the regulator concluded Viva Palestina, a charity founded in 2009 and fronted by Galloway, may not have carried out any charitable activities, despite the organisation claiming it had received more than £1 million in donations within a few months of its launch.
In the most recent in a series of regulatory investigations dating back to 2009, the regulator concluded “it was difficult [...] to establish with any certainty whether any charitable activity had taken place, as it found little, if any, evidence that humanitarian aid was distributed to those in need in accordance with the charity’s objects”.
The inquiry also revealed the charity’s trustees had failed to provide financial accounts, failed to maintain proper financial controls, to properly manage and administrate the charity or safeguard its assets; and failed to cooperate with the inquiry or comply with earlier actions demanded by the Commission.
It also found one of the former trustees had received payments from the charity and that mobile phones and radios were purchased using the charity’s funds.
“Our inquiry shows that the former trustees did not pay proper attention to the legal responsibilities involved in running a charity and handling funds donated by the public,” said Michelle Russell, Director of Investigations, Monitoring and Enforcement at the Commission.
“We found little evidence that the intended beneficiaries received the support intended, despite the extensive fundraising by Viva Palestina. The former trustees thus badly let down the public to whom the charity is accountable.”
Viva Palestina was founded in early 2009 with the aim of launching a large-scale campaign to finance provision of aid from the UK to Gaza, including food, medicine and medical equipment.
A convoy of about 120 Viva Palestina vehicles travelled from London to Gaza in early 2009, including a fire engine donated by the Fire Brigades Union and 12 ambulances; and accompanied for the last part of its journey by additional vehicles donated by the Libyan organisation the Gaddafi Foundation.
Further smaller convoys did travel to Gaza with some support from other organisations during 2009 and 2010, but not all were able to deliver all of the material they were carrying to Gaza.
The organisation did not apply to register as a charity, but the regulator quickly came to the view that its activities suggested it was a charity and that it should be registered. A regulatory case was escalated to a statutory inquiry in March 2009, after the commission failed to establish effective dialogue with the organisation.
This inquiry concluded in March 2010, when an action plan was issued to the trustees. The trustees failed to comply with its terms and a second statutory inquiry opened in June 2013. By then, all except one of the trustees named by the charity on the charities register had either resigned without being replaced or could not be traced.
Requests for the charity’s accounts dating back to 2009 yielded only a draft set of accounts for its first year of operations. These revealed that at the time it claimed to have received £1 million in donations Viva Palestina had actually received about £180,000.
In September 2014, the inquiry appointed an interim manager to take over management and administration of the charity, under the terms of the 2011 Charities Act.
In January 2015, the manager was given the power to control the charity’s bank account and any residual funds. In July 2015 the account contained £5,121. No other assets could be found.