Couple who 'intentionally abused' charity ordered to pay back more than £500,000

A husband and wife who were jailed for stealing from a poverty relief charity they “intentionally abused for criminal purposes” have been ordered to repay more than £500,000.

In an inquiry report published today, the Charity Commission said it first opened an investigation into Afghan Poverty Relief in 2011, following a referral from the Metropolitan Police to investigate concerns about the charity’s governance and management, and specifically to examine its finances. 

In November that year, the charity’s two former trustees, husband and wife Syed Hajnajafi and Akila Kassam, were arrested for a number of offences and in May 2013 they were both charged with theft.

Kassam was also charged with four counts of fraud for making false or misleading representations to the commission relating to the charity’s annual return submissions.

In April 2014, both were found guilty of one count of theft, while Kassam was also found guilty of four counts of fraud.

In May 2014, Hajnajafi was sentenced to five years imprisonment and Kassam was jailed for three years.

As a result, both trustees were automatically disqualified from trusteeship. 

Following the trial, the police initiated confiscation proceedings to recover funds stolen from the charity. 

The court subsequently issued confiscation orders against both trustees for £532,925.

The commission appointed an interim manager in September 2014 to, among other duties, represent the charity during the confiscation proceedings.

Payments of £457,134 were made to Afghan Poverty Relief between 2016 and 2017 in accordance with the confiscation order, the commission said. 

The regulator said its investigation analysed the charity’s bank accounts, as well as personal and business accounts associated with Hajnajafi and Kassam.

It found that during the four years up to 2011, more than £254,000 was withdrawn from the charity’s accounts and more than £215,000 was paid into personal and business accounts linked to the two former trustees.

The regulator’s report also found that the charity’s trustees failed to keep adequate records, including that many of the receipts and records it scrutinised were undated and that it was not possible to reconcile donations recorded as having been received by the charity with deposits into the charity’s accounts.

The commission said the charity had been wound up and its remaining assets transferred to another charity for the purposes of funding an orphanage in Ghazni, Afghanistan, which had previously been supported by the charity.

Tim Hopkins, assistant director of investigations and inquiries at the commission, said: “This charity was set up to support vulnerable and disadvantaged people, including orphans in Afghanistan. 

“Instead of ensuring donations received by the charity were applied for charitable purposes, two of its then trustees abused and exploited it for criminal purposes. 

“In doing so, they committed criminal offences, breached charity law and exhibited behaviours which fell far below the legal and public expectations of how trustees should behave.”

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