Commission removes Galloway's Viva Palestina from the charities register

MP's spokesman Ronald McKay has appealed to the charity tribunal against an order to provide accounts for the charity for earlier years

Ronald McKay

The Charity Commission has removed Viva Palestina, the aid charity founded by the Respect MP George Galloway, from its register of charities, and has ordered Galloway’s spokesman, Ronald McKay, to prepare and provide accounts for the charity for the years to 2012.

But McKay has appealed to the charity tribunal against the order, saying that he was not a trustee and was not able to comply.

Viva Palestina, also known as Lifeline for Gaza, was founded as a fundraising appeal by Galloway, the Respect MP for Bradford West, in January 2009, and ran a number of aid convoys to take food and supplies to Gaza. The organisation was registered as a charity in April 2009, but has never filed accounts with the commission.

The commission opened a statutory inquiry into the charity in July this year, and last month removed it from its register because it "does not operate", its entry says.

On 2 September the regulator ordered McKay to prepare accounts for 2010, 2011 and 2012 and to provide them to the commission.

McKay, who is Galloway’s friend and press spokesman, has been closely involved in the charity, travelling in its aid convoys. He and Galloway were together expelled from Egypt in 2010 while travelling on a convoy.

He appealed to the charity tribunal on 21 October, saying that despite his close involvement with the charity he was not a trustee and could not provide the information the commission wanted.

"At no point in the three years for which accounts should be filed was I a trustee or official of the charity," he told Third Sector. "I was a sympathiser and I’ve helped out, and I’ve attempted to act as an honest broker between the commission and the trustees, and the commission appears to have deemed me a trustee as a result.

"It appears the commission has the power to convict you in absentia. Obviously I was an easier target than the actual trustees."

McKay’s appeal was made outside the 42-day time limit. However, Alison McKenna, principal judge of the first-tier tribunal, ruled last week that the appeal would be allowed.

The commission has conducted an inquiry into Viva Palestina before. Finishing in 2010, it found that the charity was mismanaged and raised less than a fifth of the £1m it had claimed to have raised in its first appeal.

Galloway has also been investigated in relation to another charity he founded, the Mariam Appeal. The commission faces a challenge at the Supreme Court over its refusal to release documents relating to that investigation under the Freedom of Information Act.

A Charity Commission spokeswoman said that it did not comment on ongoing litigation in the tribunal.

"The case will be dealt with in accordance with tribunal procedure," she said.

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