Regulator opens inquiry into Islamic charity that funded extremist TV station

The Charity Commission has opened a statutory inquiry into a charity that funded a TV station that promoted extremist views. 

The regulator said it had opened an inquiry into the Islamic Research Foundation International amid concerns about spending and possible conflicts of interest. 

The regulator was criticised in December by the National Secular Society for not opening an inquiry into the charity, which the society said promoted extremist views, despite several complaints. 

Zakir Naik, who is listed as the charity’s chair on its entry on the Charity Commission’s online register, was barred from entering the UK in 2010 because of his views, which include praising Osama bin Laden and saying all Muslims "should be terrorists".

The commission said in December that it had made an order in April last year to disqualify Naik as a trustee, but he had appealed against the decision at the charity tribunal. 

A spokeswoman for the regulator said on Friday that the matter was still to be determined by the tribunal and the commission was unable to comment further on the case at this time.

The charity helped to fund the television channels Peace TV and Peace TV Urdu. 

In November, Peace TV Urdu was taken off air after the regulator Ofcom ruled one of its programmes had incited murder.

Both its broadcasting licence and that of Peace TV were given up and the channels are no longer broadcasting in the UK. 

The commission said it had opened an inquiry on 17 April to examine decisions by the charity’s trustees to continue funding the Peace TV channels despite “several breaches of Ofcom’s broadcasting code” and to determine whether any conflicts of interest arose from an overlap between some of the charity’s trustees and Peace TV’s licensee’s directors. 

It also said it would look into whether all the funds given by the charity to the Peace TV channels would be used to fund activities that exclusively furthered a charitable purpose and whether trustees had received any unauthorised personal benefits. 

The IRFI was set up to advance Islam and generated an income of £518,000 in the financial year ending 31 January 2019.

The National Secular Society last year submitted a request to the commission under the Freedom of Information Act, which revealed that the regulator had received five complaints about the charity between 1 January 2010 and 31 October 2019, but had not opened any statutory inquiries at that point. 

Megan Manson, campaigns officer at the National Secular Society, welcomed the inquiry and said: “IRFI’s funding of Peace TV has helped to enable Islamist extremists to push deeply intolerant messages to substantial audiences. 

“There’s a clear case that this charity isn’t serving a public benefit and doesn’t deserve the tax breaks and official recognition that charitable status brings.”

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