African Aids Action persists with charity tribunal appeal

Trustees accuse Charity Commission of 'racially motivated witch hunt'

The trustees of a London-based Aids charity have decided to proceed with an appeal to the charity tribunal even though the Charity Commission has already taken the action they wanted.

African Aids Action, which wants to set up a non-profit company producing Aids drugs in Africa, lodged an appeal on 5 November against the regulator's refusal to lift an order restricting payments from its bank account. The order was imposed during a formal investigation.

A commission spokeswoman said that the regulator had since lifted the restriction order and closed the investigation "on the basis that the charity take certain steps to remedy the issues of concern". She declined to comment further on a live tribunal case.

Eyob Ghebre-Sellassie, the founder and chair of African Aids Action, told Third Sector he wanted to force the commission to justify its initial imposition of the order. He said it was based on false and unsubstantiated allegations that he was personally benefiting from the charity.

Ghebre-Sellassie described the 20-month investigation as a "racially motivated witch hunt", during which the commission had "acted like MI5" and refused to explain its actions.

He said the trustees had been so mentally scarred by their treatment that they had considered closing the charity, but decided instead to go "on the offensive", lodging complaints with the employment tribunal and the parliamentary and health services ombudsman as well as with the charity tribunal.

He said they also wanted to appeal to the charity tribunal against the conclusions of the inquiry, which have been shown to the charity's trustees but not yet published, but had been refused permission by the commission.

The commission spokeswoman confirmed that the subjects of inquiries could appeal only against specific directions made by the regulator.

"Our only chance to restore our reputation is through the courts," Ghebre-Sellassie said. "We just want a fair hearing. We aren't doing it for publicity. We are Africans and our families are dying of Aids. We are fighting for our lives."

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