The Charity Commission has launched a statutory inquiry into the Spiritualist Association of Great Britain following concerns that it sold its former London headquarters for substantially below its market value.
The Spiritualist Association of Great Britain, formerly known as the Marylebone Spiritualist Association, registered with the commission in 1963 and lists among its charitable objects on the Charity Commission’s website the advancement of the religion and religious philosophy of Spiritualism.
In a statement, the commission said it was made aware in January 2013 that the trustees had disposed of charity property in 2010 and concerns were raised that the property, which was sold for £6m to a company based in the British Virgin Islands, may have been sold for significantly less than its market value.
A spokeswoman for the commission said the property had been the association’s former head office, located at 33 Belgrave Square, London. The property was later sold by the company that had bought it to another company based in the British Virgin Islands for £21m.
The commission could not confirm the names of the companies involved. The commission added that it "been engaging with the charity to establish the facts about the disposal, as it came to light that, shortly after the disposal, the property was sold on to another British Virgin Islands registered company for £21m."
The charity’s accounts for 2010/11, filed with the regulator, said: "In January 2011 the association moved into rented accommodation and sold 33 Belgrave Square. The repairing lease and cost of running the building was becoming onerous."
The accounts also list an income of £5,792,516 as "profit on disposal of leasehold property".
So far the charity trustees have been unable to demonstrate that the steps they took and the decision they made to sell the property was in the interests of the charity, the commission said in its statement. As a result, it opened an inquiry into the charity on 8 July.
The statement added: "The investigation by the commission will examine whether, and to what extent, there was mismanagement or misconduct on the part of the trustees. This will include whether the trustees complied with their legal obligations and fiduciary duties as trustees when disposing of a charitable asset."
Once the inquiry is completed, the commission will publish a report detailing what the inquiry looked at, what actions were undertaken as part of the inquiry and what the outcomes were, the statement said.
Third Sector contacted the Spiritualist Association of Great Britain by email and telephone to request a comment but did not receive a response.