'Vicar of Baghdad' handed 12-year disqualification by regulator

Canon Andrew White admits he 'probably was not as wise as I should have been'

Canon Andrew White (Photograph: David Wong/South China Morning Post via Getty Images)
Canon Andrew White (Photograph: David Wong/South China Morning Post via Getty Images)

An Anglican priest dubbed the “Vicar of Baghdad” when he was based in Iraq, has been disqualified from being a charity trustee for 12 years. 

Canon Andrew White, who served as vicar of St George's church in the city between 2004 and 2014, has been disqualified from acting as a trustee or senior manager at a charity until 31 July 2032, the Charity Commission said in an inquiry report published on Friday. 

The report details the commission’s findings in relation to the poverty relief charity CAWRM, or Canon Andrew White Reconciliation Ministries – but also known as Jerusalem Merit. It strongly criticises CAWRM, but also notes that White had been disqualified because of actions relating to another charity. 

The commission did not specify which other charity, but a previous inquiry report into the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East, published by the commission in January, concluded White had “put the charity at risk” by fundraising at an event for donations to pay ransoms for Islamic State hostages. 

White told Third Sector he had never given any money to terrorists. 

The report into CAWRM concluded that its founding trustees had been responsible for misconduct and/or mismanagement in areas including a lack of financial accounting and a failure to properly manage the relationship between White and the charity. 

The commission said the founding trustees had failed to manage conflicts of interest arising from its relationship with a company linked to White, who was the charity’s ambassador, and had allowed unauthorised payments to be made to a trustee. 

The regulator opened an inquiry into CAWRM in 2018 after a compliance visit that uncovered “a number of serious governance concerns”, the commission said.

It found the charity’s founding trustees had held charitable funds in White’s personal bank account while the charity was unable to open one of its own, but the lack of proper records left White owing the charity money – it was not clear how much. 

The regulator concluded that books written by White, which were funded by the charity, were sold at events he attended as an ambassador. 

“While the trustees understood that Canon White would donate funds raised from the book sales to the charity, they did not have a written agreement in place for this and the inquiry has not seen evidence that any funds were donated,” the commission said. 

Investigators also found the charity paid £14,000 to provide PAYE services to a company that was linked to all of the founding trustees, without a proper written agreement. 

The commission said the charity, which had an income of £160,619 in the year to the end of April 2019, had spent “significant sums on overseas consultants and a school in Jordan”, without clarity of what this expenditure was for. 

“The inquiry found that these arrangements predated the creation of the charity and were set up by Canon White,” the regulator said. 

One founding trustee received unauthorised payments of more than £15,000 for providing services to the charity, the regulator found. The trustee resigned as soon as it became clear the payments had been unauthorised. 

The regulator concluded that the charity had moved about £42,000 in cash out of the UK during trips to Jordan and/or Israel in 2018, despite the commission having issued a general warning to charities not to do such things. 

It issued an order instructing the charity to restrict the use of this practice, which it said the charity had complied with. 

The regulator also instructed it to strengthen its governance in areas including managing personal benefit and conflicts of interest. 

It told the charity to consider the recovery of any personal benefit to White and the unauthorised salary payments made to one of the founding trustees. 

White said he was “probably not as wise as I should have been”. 

He said: “The reality is that we were not running a charity in the safety of England. We were working in a dangerous place at a dangerous time.”

He said the charity had taken advice and had made a lot of changes to how it worked. “The good news is that the needs of the people are being met without any of the previous risks being taken,” he said. 

Topics:
Governance

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