Charity that judged trustworthiness of partners from a documentary censured by regulator

East London-based Masoom sent money to the personal bank accounts of two people in Syria, but had no evidence to show the money was spent on its charitable objects

The Charity Commission has criticised an aid charity operating in Syria that judged the trustworthiness of some of its partners in the country based on a television documentary.

In a statutory inquiry report published today, the commission says that trustees at the east London-based Masoom, which also operated in Gaza, Pakistan and Tanzania, had no evidence to show how some of their funds were being spent after the money was transferred to the charities’ agents abroad.

The commission opened its inquiry in August 2015 after visiting the charity and finding that it was unable to account for spending of £129,500.

After the commission made an order, the charity was able to account for £75,700 spent on humanitarian aid projects in Gaza, Pakistan and Tanzania.

However, between 15 April 2013 and 8 October 2014, the trustees had transferred more than £53,800 to the personal bank accounts of two people acting as the charity’s agents in Syria, but had no receipts or other documents to show the money had been spent on furthering the charity’s objects, the report says.

It adds that the commission could find no evidence that trustees had carried out any due diligence before agreeing to employ the agents and sending the funds.

The report says that trustees told the commission they had seen a documentary about the agents’ work in April 2014 after the first transfers had taken place, and "they felt, based on the documentary alone, that the agents were accordingly trustworthy individuals".

The trustees said they had seen separate photos and videos of the agents carrying out the charity’s work, but could not produce them for the inquiry.

On the same day the documentary was aired, but before it was broadcast, the trustees emailed the agents telling them they could no longer deposit funds directly into their personal bank accounts because of the pressure on charities sending money to war zones.

But after the documentary was aired just hours later, they sent a second email, saying they appreciated the agents might not be able to comply because they were not in an ordinary working environment and recommending, rather than requiring, the agents to provide receipts and spending records.

The report says: "The fact that the trustees reversed their previous decision based solely on the footage in the documentary raises concerns about the quality of the trustees’ decision-making and how easily they seemed to be swayed."

The report says trustees had attended commission-run events on general charity management and specifically on the dangers and requirements when sending money to Syria, but had failed to make any changes to their practices.

"It is therefore beyond doubt that the trustees were aware of and knew, or ought to have known, and understood their obligations and duties as trustees," the report says.

The commission concluded that there had been poor financial management and mismanagement and/or misconduct at the charity.

It ordered the charity to take steps to recover evidence of the charity’s spending so far, to repay or recover funds that had not been accounted for and to improve financial management, due diligence and general governance.

Masoom suspended its activities while the inquiry continued, but the commission will revisit the charity in 18 months and 24 months, once its activities have restarted, to monitor its progress, the report says.

The charity did not respond to Third Sector’s request for comment.

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