Regulator's inquiry into Ethiopian church focuses on trusteeship and management

The Charity Commission launched its second investigation into Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church St Mary of Debre Tsion in October

Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church St Mary of Debre Tsion
Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church St Mary of Debre Tsion

The Charity Commission has said that its latest statutory inquiry into an Ethiopian church will investigate concerns about a long-running dispute over the trusteeship and management of the charity.

Third Sector reported last month that the regulator had opened its second inquiry in six months into the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church St Mary of Debre Tsion, based in Battersea, south-west London, and that the church had appealed against the decision to the charity tribunal.

The commission said at the time that it could not make any comment on the reasons for opening the inquiry until the investigation was publicly announced.

Today’s announcement of the inquiry, which was opened on 6 October, said that the regulator would look into whether the charity had a properly constituted trustee board; the charity’s financial controls and whether there had been any loss of charitable assets; and whether there had been any misconduct by those who are running the charity.

It would also examine the charity’s "repeated failure" to file annual accounts and returns on time, the commission said.

The charity’s entry on the Charity Commission’s online register shows that for the years 2009 to 2012 it filed these documents between 160 and 345 days late.

The site shows, however, that the charity’s accounts for 2013 were filed on 31 October, the final day before they would be late.

"Since May 2014, the commission has sought relevant information to address the commission’s concerns from the individuals currently administering the charity during its recent engagement, but this has not been provided, despite repeated requests to do so," a commission statement said today. "This includes not complying with requests for information and declining to meet with the regulator."

It is the second time in six months that the commission has opened an inquiry into the charity only for it to appeal the decision at the charity tribunal.

In May, the charity submitted an appeal to the tribunal against the opening of an inquiry by the commission into its governance.

In that instance, the regulator then dropped its statutory inquiry, but the church decided not to withdraw its appeal, instead continuing to question the basis on which the inquiry was opened.

The commission has since been given permission to appeal to the upper tribunal over the first-tier tribunal’s refusal to strike that initial appeal out.

The upper tribunal is yet to rule on the matter.

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