Three charities have been forced to close by the regulator in Northern Ireland after a “god-ordained” trustee made payments called “love offerings”, and loaned himself £15,000 of charitable funds to cover personal car financing.
The Charity Commission for Northern Ireland says in a statutory inquiry report published this week that Glenn Dunlop was the founder and a trustee of the Karmel City Church in Belfast.
The church was connected to two other charities: The Karmel Trust, which centred on overseas evangelism, and Make A Difference Worldwide, which focused on relief and aid work.
The report says the CCNI received concerns in April 2019 about how the church was being governed.
The investigation found there was a lack of transparency about a £600,000 donation received by the charity, and Dunlop made a £15,000 loan to himself using charitable funds to cover car payments.
The report revealed that all strategic and financial decisions were ultimately made by Dunlop, who believed that he had a “god-ordained authority'' to assume control of church governance.
He also believed “the board of trustees existed only in an advisory capacity and did not have ‘actual power’… as ‘church is not meant to be a democracy’”, the report says.
The report goes on to state that, as internal splits within the church emerged, Dunlop was understood to have charged his brother and another church elder with “rebellion and non-submission”.
He then went on to encourage the congregation to withhold their £3,750-a-week donations, and set up a new church, the Karmel Apostolic House, taking the congregation with him.
He also made numerous payments totalling £44,000, which he called “love offerings”, to individuals he recommended, which the report says “lack the degree of transparency expected” from a charity.
The investigation found “evidence of mismanagement and misconduct across the charities” and “obvious failings in corporate governance in each of the three charities”.
All three have closed and their remaining assets have been passed on to other charities with similar charitable purposes.
At the end of the report, Dunlop said it contained “inaccuracies and unproven allegations”.
Sarah Finnegan, head of inquiries and compliance at the regulator, said the case was not representative of charities in Northern Ireland and advised to trustees to read its guidance regarding the need for trustees to manage conflicts of interest and to maintain and retain proper financial records.
She said: “I would strongly advise all trustees to ensure they read this guidance and have it on hand as a reference tool, alongside their charity’s governing document.”