The former wife of the politician George Galloway was paid £84,000 of charitable funds by a charity of which she and Galloway were trustees, The Times newspaper has claimed.
The former Respect MP, who is standing as an independent candidate in the Manchester Gorton constituency in tomorrow’s general election, founded the Mariam Appeal in 1998 to save the life of a four-year-old Iraqi girl, Mariam Hamza, who was suffering from leukaemia. It raised £1.5m for her treatment.
It was initially set up as a political campaign that also argued for the removal of international sanctions against Iraq. But in 2003 the Charity Commission opened an inquiry into the organisation and ruled that it should have been registered as a charity.
In the same inquiry report, the commission said that Dr Amineh Abu-Zayyad, who was Galloway’s wife at the time, and a second trustee, Stuart Halford, had received unauthorised salary payments, but did not say how much they had been paid.
In a front-page news story today, The Times reported that the payments to Abu-Zayyad totalled £84,000 in salary and expenses.
According to The Times – which obtained heavily redacted copies of the commission’s background documents for the inquiry after a 10-year battle, including a request under the Freedom of Information Act that went to the Supreme Court – Abu-Zayyad told the commission that £42,000 of the payments had been a salary for her role as the appeal’s medical and scientific officer.
Galloway told The Times that nobody involved with the charity, which closed 14 years ago, had received any unauthorised benefits.
The Times reported that Abu-Zayyad wrote to the inquiry to say the rest of the payments she had received from the charity before it was wound up in 2003 had been for expenses, including travel and accommodation in Iraq and Jordan for herself, Mariam and Mariam’s grandfather.
In its inquiry report, the commission said: "The information provided to the commission suggests that the executive committee considered these payments were necessary and were unaware that they were unauthorised.
"The commission accepts that none of the executive committee acted in bad faith and that the services provided were of value to the appeal."
In light of this, the commission decided not to take further action or to demand repayment of the money, the report said.
But The Times said today that the Charity Commission had refused to disclose the amount Abu-Zayyad was paid. The newspaper criticised the regulator for refusing to release its background documents, arguing that voters should have been made aware of the details of the case on the three occasions Galloway had run for election since the inquiry.
In 2005, the Charity Commission opened an inquiry into the connection between the charity and the Oil for Food Programme in Iraq, finding that the trustees did not make sufficient enquiries into the origin of the donations the charity received.
In 2013, it opened an inquiry into another charity founded by Galloway, Viva Palestina.
The Charity Commission declined to comment on the Times story and would not confirm the £84,000 figure allegedly paid to Abu-Zayyad.
Galloway did not respond to Third Sector’s requests for comment before publication of this story.