The Charity Commission has denied claims of bias in its investigative work after a charity accused the regulator of acting as an “extension of police and security services”.
The claim was made following the closing of a statutory inquiry into Human Aid UK that found misconduct and/or mismanagement in the charity’s administration.
The regulator opened a statutory inquiry into the charity, which provides aid to those affected by war and conflict, in August 2019.
This was following an incident on 9 July of that year when some of the charity’s staff, including its UK director of operations and two volunteers, were stopped at Heathrow Airport by the Metropolitan Police. They were carrying more than £9,000 in cash.
This was despite advice given by the commission a day earlier against “cash couriering”.
The cash was seized under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 and detained for an initial period of six months, but the money was returned to the charity in May 2020.
The individuals told the police that the funds belonged to the charity and were intended for use as part of an aid mission in Gaza, but the commission’s report said the charity was unable to explain where the funds came from or who would receive them.
In October 2019, and again in February 2020, police told the commission’s inquiry that there had been a lack of engagement on the part of the charity during its Proceeds of Crime Act investigation.
The commission said that the “failure to take steps to release the seized cash is both irresponsible and reckless and evidence of misconduct and/or mismanagement in the administration of the charity on the part of trustees”.
But the charity described the inquiry as “wasteful” and “heavy-handed” and accused the commission of institutional bias and Islamophobia.
The regulator also examined the charity’s partnership with a not-for-profit organisation based in Turkey that implemented the charity’s humanitarian relief projects in Turkey and Syria.
This followed concerns raised by the police in April 2019 that the not-for-profit organisation was being used to provide support to Al-Qaeda-aligned individuals, but the regulator found no evidence that the partnership persisted after the charity was made aware.
The charity transferred a total of nearly £250,000 to the organisation between February and July 2018, but trustees could not confirm how the money had been spent.
The inquiry criticised the charity for continuing to provide funding to the organisation despite outstanding monitoring documents.
In a statement, the charity said the closure of the inquiry “vindicates a number of claims it has made over the past two years asserting that the commission was being excessive in its approach and effectively acting as an extension of police and security services' harassment policy”.
The charity said it also raised complaints of police harassment and institutional Islamophobia numerous times with the commission, and claims the “police exploited the powers of the commission to outsource the harassment, which inevitably led to the opening of the statutory inquiry”.
Nur Choudhury, chair of Human Aid UK, said: “The report is a bitter pill to swallow, since it includes unnecessarily incriminating language that we feel is defamatory and inaccurate, and which casts undue suspicion on us and Muslim charities in general, putting us in a position where we must spend extra energy dispelling unwarranted assumptions.”
Choudhury said the charity and a number of other Muslim charities had requested a meeting with the commission to discuss the “problem of bias and Islamophobia at the commission”.
The commission said the charity had not appealed its decision or made use of its complaints process.
A spokesperson for the regulator said: “The report explains why we opened an inquiry into Human Aid UK and lays out the serious findings the inquiry made, which speak for themselves.
“We strongly reject any suggestion of bias in our investigative work.
“The commission assesses all concerns raised with us fairly and consistently in line with a published risk framework.
“We are clear that our investigations do not focus on any specific religious classification.
“We have asked for more information from the charity about the proposed meeting.”