Former MP 'very disturbed' at how Charity Commission handled African Aids Action inquiry

Tory election candidate James Brokenshire is also concerned about the leak of a draft report on its investigation

A former Tory MP is continuing to monitor the Charity Commission's controversial investigation into African Aids Action.

James Brokenshire, who represented Hornchurch in east London, where the chair of the charity lives, became involved in March last year when the commission made an order to wind up the charity within two weeks. The order was withdrawn shortly afterwards.

Brokenshire, now a candidate in the Old Bexley and Sidcup constituency after boundary changes, told Third Sector he had been "very disturbed" by the way the commission had handled the 18-month investigation, which closed last November.

"It cannot be right to take such serious action against a charity and then simply drop it without explaining why," he said.

Most recently, Brokenshire has written to the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Gus O'Donnell, to protest about the leaking to Third Sector earlier this year of a draft version of the inquiry report on the charity .

Eyob Ghebre-Sellassie, chair of AAA, told Third Sector the allegations in the draft report of financial mismanagement were unjustified and that an independent examiner had uncovered no problems in the charity's accounts, which were not submitted until January this year.

Brokenshire said he was very concerned about the leak and had written to O'Donnell, the head of the civil service, urging him to investigate its source and the robustness of the commission's "internal procedures".

A spokeswoman for the commission confirmed that the Cabinet Office was conducting a formal investigation. She said an official inquiry report would be published "in due course". The regulator aims to publish reports within three months of the end of an inquiry.

Last November, Ghebre-Sellassie appealed to the charity tribunal against the commission's refusal to lift an order freezing AAA's bank account, but the case was struck out after the commission reversed its position before the hearing. He was given permission to appeal to the Upper Tribunal, but has opted instead to prepare a High Court claim for damages against the commission.

Meanwhile, Jodi Berg, the Independent Complaints Reviewer, has offered to ask the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman to investigate Ghebre-Sellassie's complaints about the commission's service.

Such complaints normally go first to the ICR, but Ghebre-Sellassie expressed doubts about Berg's impartiality because she is paid by the commission. In a letter to Ghebre-Sellassie, Berg said that, in the circumstances, it would not be "proportionate or beneficial" to consider his complaints herself.

Ghebre-Sellassie told Third Sector he felt the commission had treated him as guilty until proven innocent and had subjected him to long interrogations that left him feeling "tortured mentally".

African Aids Action was set up in 2001 with the aim of raising money to set up a pharmaceutical plant in Africa to manufacture cheap Aids drugs.


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