BBC could face fraud office probe over charity cash

The Serious Fraud Office is considering investigating the BBC after it emerged that the corporation had withheld more than £100,000 raised by phone voting that should have been donated to charities such as Children in Need and Comic Relief.

Independent auditors investigating the BBC’s premium rate service discovered that the broadcaster had knowingly diverted £106,000 raised from viewers who had called voting lines after voting had closed, according to a BBC Trust Report issued this month.

The fees of about 25p a call, raised between October 2005 and September 2007, were diverted to the bank account of Audiocall, the trading division of BBC Worldwide. According to the report, all of the money, with the interest it has accumulated, has now been passed on to the charities.

A spokeswoman said the SFO was studying the report: “This is a preliminary assessment in order to determine whether or not the SFO should investigate.”

The trust’s report describes the diversion of charity funds as “wholly wrong and a matter of regret”. It says the trust has asked the BBC to apologise on air and consider disciplinary action. Both the BBC and Comic Relief declined to comment further.

The auditors were called in by the BBC after revelations last year that production staff had posed as winners of phone-in competitions during telethons for Children in Need, Sport Relief and Comic Relief when technical problems prevented viewers from getting through.

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