Charity regulators across the globe to share terrorism information

US wants action to prevent organisations from registering

International charity regulators yesterday pledged to share information to prevent terrorists operating in countries where they believe the law to be weaker.

Lois Lerner, director of the Exempt Organizations Division of the US Internal Revenue Service, which regulates charities in the United States, said charity regulators across the globe needed to be wary of ‘forum shopping' among different jurisdictions by terrorists seeking to exploit charities.

Lerner was speaking to Third Sector during the third annual conference of regulators from the English-speaking world, hosted this year by the Charity Commission. Also present were the chief executives of the regulators in Canada and New Zealand, as well as those of Scotland and Northern Ireland.

She said the best way to keep terrorism out of charity was before the registration stage. "There is an argument that if you get them in the door and educate them it can stop them carrying out terrorist acts," Lerner said. "But it doesn't work, and if they are not registered they won't get the support they need."

She said regulators needed to be particularly vigilant about general abuse of charities and their beneficiaries during the economic downturn. She said they should work to educate the public and use the press to highlight issues.

Trevor Garrett, chief executive of the New Zealand Charities Commission, which was established in 2005, said the forum was a useful way for new regulators to "see where they are heading" and benefit from the experience of more established jurisdictions. "We wouldn't be where we are if it hadn't been for all the advice we have got, especially from the Charity Commission," he said.

Andrew Hind, chief executive of the Charity Commission, said it was also useful for established regulators to talk to new ones because the latter tended to be better at using modern technology.

He said the commission would be looking with interest at a new Canadian policy document on monitoring charities operating abroad, and a US study of public benefit deriving from private hospitals.

"Each country has its own legislative framework and social concerns, but we want to understand what others are doing in order to mix and match ideas," he said.

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