Grant-maker spent more than £10m on legal costs relating to founders’ divorce

The Children’s Investment Fund Foundation incurred legal costs of more than £10m related to the divorce of its founders, new figures show.

The charity’s latest accounts, which cover the year ending December 2021, show that CIFF incurred total legal costs of $12.9m, or £10.6m, between 2014 and 2021. 

The figure covers “governance issues” linked to the divorce of the billionaire hedge-fund manager Sir Christopher Hohn and his ex-wife Jamie Cooper, who was president and chief executive of the foundation.

The couple set up CIFF in 2002, but their divorce in 2014 led to protracted legal action over the charitable company.

The charity confirmed that the figure for legal costs includes £850,000 paid to Marko Lehtimäki, the CIFF’s only trustee besides Hohn and Cooper, to cover his costs during those legal proceedings. According to the accounts, the charity paid Lehtimäki in January 2022.

CIFF has set aside a further £200,000 in case of future costs, but the trustees consider that “legal proceedings are now complete”, the accounts say.

The annual report also shows that last year £59m was transferred from CIFF to Big Win Philanthropy, the charity set up by Cooper while the couple were divorcing. Under a separate court judgment, CIFF is required to pay BWP a total of £280m as a condition of her leaving CIFF’s board.

CIFF has an endowment worth just under £5bn. Last year, the number of staff employed at the charity, measured by headcount, rose from 132 to 167.

It increased its grant-making for the fourth year in a row, and awarded grants worth about £380m in 2021.

The accounts say CIFF partnered with other philanthropists to provide about £105m to fill the gap left by “shrinking financial commitments from donors, most significantly the UK’s reduced aid target”. 

The UK government cut aid spending last year by an estimated £2bn, despite a manifesto pledge not to reduce global development funding. 

Writing in the introduction to the report, Hohn praises the “entrepreneurial mindset from CIFF staff and partners” and says the foundation has a “laser focus” on social impact.

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