Charity Commission closes inquiry into Ethiopian orthodox church after charity tribunal appeal

The regulator ends its statutory inquiry into St Mary of Debre Tsion but the charity remains the subject of an operational compliance case

St Mary of Debre Tsion
St Mary of Debre Tsion

The Charity Commission has closed its statutory inquiry into a London-based Ethiopian church that appealed to the charity tribunal against the commission’s actions.

But the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, St Mary of Debre Tsion, remains the subject of an operational compliance case by the commission.

The commission opened an inquiry into governance issues at the church on 31 March, after reviewing the charity’s governing document and compliance with an action plan the regulator had issued to trustees. 

The church appealed against the opening of the inquiry in the First-tier Tribunal (Charity) on 14 April.

On considering the appeal, a spokeswoman for the commission said it "has accepted that it needs to reconsider its initial interpretation of the governing document, and it is likely we will require further clarification from the trustees on their understanding of it". It made the decision on 12 May.

The church remains subject to an operational compliance case because "there continues to be serious regulatory issues that need to be resolved, including the regularising of the charity’s governance", the spokeswoman said.

Zelalem Tessema, a member of the church’s congregation, who is not a trustee, said the commission had misunderstood the fact the charity’s governance was controlled by a by-law, installed in 2006, rather than the trust deed used to found the church in 1992.

"We never used the trust deed for government; it was just for establishing the charity," he said. "It was never meant for governance."

Tessema said the commission was guilty of "prolonging the agony" of the charity.

The church’s accounts have been filed with the commission between three and 11 months late every year for the past five years. The last time it filed – for the year to 31 December 2012 – it had an income of £150,058 and spending of £162,098.

A directions document issued by the charity tribunal last week says the church still needed to withdraw its appeal as a legal formality, or make an argument that its appeal should not be thrown out.

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