George Galloway's Palestine charity 'might not have conducted any charitable activity'

A report from the Charity Commission is highly critical of Viva Palestina, set up by the former MP in 2009 to finance aid convoys to Gaza

Viva Palestina, the aid charity founded by the former MP George Galloway, might not have conducted any charitable activity or distributed any humanitarian aid, according to a highly critical report from the Charity Commission.

The commission said today that Viva Palestina's trustees failed to fulfil their legal duties, including maintaining proper financial records, safeguarding the charity’s assets, providing financial accounts and addressing concerns raised by the regulator.

Galloway founded Viva Palestina as a fundraising appeal in 2009 to finance aid convoys to Gaza. It did not apply to be a charity but, according to the report, the commission "formed the view that it was a charity and should be registered", based on media coverage of its appeal.

The report says the regulator "exhausted all reasonable methods of dialogue" with the trustees over registration, which led it to open a statutory inquiry.

That inquiry concluded a year later in 2010 with an action plan, which the report says was not acted upon, prompting a second statutory inquiry in 2013 to address regulatory concerns.

The commission appointed an interim manager in 2014 to take charge of the charity and froze its accounts.

Although the regulator said it found some evidence of money being used to purchase medical supplies, it concluded the charity’s records were so poor that "it was difficult to establish with any certainty whether any charitable activity had taken place" and there was "little or no evidence that humanitarian aid was distributed to those in need".

The inquiry found that one unnamed former trustee had received payments from the charity, and mobile phones and radios had been purchased with charity funds at "significant expenditure".

Bank accounts showed it spent £33,274 on mobile phone contracts in three years.

Viva Palestina was removed from the commission's register in September 2016 because it ceased to exist, the regulator’s website shows.

The commission has not banned the trustees from serving on charity boards.

"As the charity had ceased to exist for a significant period of time, the absence of any meaningful records and the lack of clarity over who had control of the charity and its administration and who was a trustee meant the commission was not able to exercise its powers," the report says.

"The names of individuals who failed to cooperate with the inquiry or to clarify their role in its governance and administration have been noted on the formal records, in the event that they should seek to become trustees of charity in future."

Michelle Russell, director of investigations, monitoring and enforcement at the commission, said Viva Palestina was "a wholly inadequately managed charity".

She added: "Our inquiry shows that the former trustees did not pay proper attention to the legal responsibilities involved in running a charity and handling funds donated by the public.

"We found little evidence that the intended beneficiaries received the support intended, despite the extensive fundraising by Viva Palestina.

"The former trustees thus badly let down the public to whom the charity is accountable."

Third Sector was unable to contact Galloway for comment.

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