A report published by the UK National Audit Office has found that the Charity Commission is "not regulating charities effectively," "makes little use of its enforcement powers," and has "reduced the number of staff monitoring charities from around eight full-time equivalents to less than two … [increasing] the risk that serious concerns will go undetected."
The Charity Commission itself acknowledges this problem. In a submission to a Government counter-terrorism inquiry, the Commission stated:
"Some [charities] are at risk of their funding being diverted for terrorist purposes or of charity personnel using the charity as a cover for travelling overseas for terrorist training or for raising funds…. There are number of ways in which charities can be vulnerable to abuse for terrorist purposes."
Why does the Commission presume charities are "vulnerable to abuse for terrorist purposes"? Can the Commission not accept that some charities might be established for the purpose of supporting terrorism or to promote extremist ideas?
The Commission claims its "ability to close down a charity that may be or has been abused for terrorist purposes is very limited." This statement is in blinding contrast to the claims by the Commission chairman, William Shawcross, who declared in September 2013 that, "The misuse of charities for terrorist purposes represents a despicable inversion of everything charity stands for and we will fight that without quarter."
Both the Charity Commission's reports and the National Audit Office's findings demonstrate the Commission is an impotent organization, the promises of which to identify and stop the misuse of charitable status for extremist and terrorist purposes have been nothing more than sabre rattling.
The Commission seems determined to act only against problematic trustees of a charity, rather than against the charity itself. As the National Audit Office notes: the Commission needs to "deal with those few trustees who deliberately abuse charitable status…and be more proactive by assessing the risk individual charities present in general, rather than the risk presented by specific issues within individual charities."
Contrary to the Charity Commission's belief, most extremist charities are not the product of a wayward trustee, but are institutionally problematic. In July 2013, it was noted that the Camden Abu-Dis Friendship Association, a registered UK charity, expressed support for suicide bombers as "martyrs."
The Commission, acting on this discovery, explains its response in a recent report: "For example, in one case, we identified a charity whose website hosted inappropriate material. Our engagement resulted in the charity removing those webpages from its website." Rather than address the extremist and politicized nature of the charity, the Commission simply allowed the charity to hide the incriminating evidence.
Another example touted by the Commission's report further illustrates the Commission's conviction that some charities' expressed support for terrorism is the product of missteps by the trustees and a lack of proper bureaucracy, rather than a determined extremist agenda:
"We visited the charity's premises and saw images of the leader of the group that is a proscribed terrorist organisation were displayed on the walls of the charity's offices. We also identified that the charity had organised marches at which supporters of the proscribed organisation were present … We instructed the trustees to take down the material and to take other steps to ensure they are not appearing to support a proscribed terrorist group. We also instructed the trustees to develop and implement robust controls to manage the charity's activities and the use of its premises."
At the heart of the problem lies a failure by the Commission to acknowledge the nature of charities accused of links with terror groups. The Commission's report includes case-studies of its responses to "three areas of strategic risk facing charities, which we priorities: fraud and financial crime, safeguarding issue and concerns about the terrorist abuse of charities."
The Commission directly names troublesome charities assessed over fraud or child abuse accusations. Under its terrorist abuse section, however, the charities chosen as case-studies are kept anonymous.
This logic seems to be further development of the puerile notion that some charities are the victims of exploitation by those with terrorist sympathies, rather than having been established to advance such ideas. As the Commission's contribution to the government's counter-terrorism inquiry illustrated:
"There are number of ways in which charities can be vulnerable to abuse for terrorist purposes … If it could not be evidenced that the organization was a sham or had collateral terrorist purposes, but there was evidence that an individual within a charity, for example a trustee, was involved in terrorist activity or supported or promoted terrorism, this would raise regulatory concerns about their suitability to continue to be involved in the charity."
The National Audit Office also picked up on the Commission's fixation of examining trustees rather than the charity itself: "The Commission relies heavily on trustees' assurances, but should do more to check whether trustees have actually complied. In many of the registration and operations cases we saw, the Commission relied solely on information from trustees … that they had acted to address the Commission's concerns."
One of the most conspicuous examples of the Commission's failings is that of Interpal, a charity with links to the Palestinian terror group, Hamas. Interpal was an inaugural member of the Union of Good, a coalition of charities that manages the financial support required by Hamas for its terrorist activities, as detailed before by this author.
After a number of inquiries into Interpal, the Commission concluded that "due to the nature of the allegations made about the Union for Good," the trustees must "end the Charity's membership of, and in all other respects dissociate from, the Union for Good, including ceasing to provide it with any facilities or other resources."
The Commission's latest report, in November 2013, declared that, "Following our review we were satisfied that the trustees had complied with our Order, having severed all links to the Union of Good … we were satisfied on the evidence we saw that the trustees had demonstrated that they had developed appropriate systems to meet their obligations as charity trustees, and to carry out due diligence on the charity's partners."
Just as the Commission declared it was "satisfied" that Interpal had cut its links with the Union of Good, however, a Union of Good website published several interviews with Interpal trustee Essam Mustafa (a.k.a Essam Yusuf). On 30th December 2013, the Israeli Government named Mustafa as a Hamas operative.
Moreover, the same month, Palestinian news footage shows Interpal trustee Mustafa arriving at a press conference in Hamas-controlled Gaza in the same vehicle as Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh.
In this December 2013 photo, Interpal trustee Essam Mustafa, on a visit to Gaza, pays his respects at the bombed out car of Ahmed Said Khalil al-Jabari, the head of Hamas' military wing, who was killed in a November 2012 Israeli drone strike.
In this December 2013 photo, Interpal trustee Essam Mustafa, on a visit to Gaza, pays his respects at a shrine dedicated to Ahmed Said Khalil al-Jabari.
The Commission is satisfied that Interpal has cut its ties to the non-proscribed Union of Good but looks the other way as Interpal continues to work closely with the banned terrorist group Hamas, whose connections to Interpal were, after all, the original reason for an inquiry.
At present, only a fraction of extremism in the charitable sector is uncovered. Under the current system, the Commission relies on a charity's trustees and employees to alert the Commission to wrongdoing. The Commission seems unable to grasp that under such a system, very little information will come its way.
Under current legislation, British charities are exempt from Freedom of Information requests. As has been frequently documented (for example, here, here and here) a considerable number of charities receiving public funds promote extremist ideas: the East London Mosque, for example, has received £2.9 million of taxpayer's money for "interfaith" and "counter-extremism" purposes. In December, however, the East London Mosque hosted Shakeel Begg, a preacher who describes jihad as "the greatest of deeds."
The Inter Faith Network for the United Kingdom [IFN], as another example, was granted, in 2011 alone, £373,990 by the Department for Communities and Local Government. 80% of the IFN's budget, in fact, is taxpayers' money. The IFN's co-chairman, from 2011-12, was Dr. Manazir Ahsan, a leading British Islamist who helped to coordinate the riots in the UK against Salman Rushdie over his book, The Satanic Verses.
The IFN's executive committee presently includes Ayub Laher, who belongs to Jamiat Ulama-e-Britain (JuB), the representative body of Deobandi scholars in Britain, whose Pakistani branch, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam [JuB], is "directly affiliated" to Pakistani Deobandi seminaries with close ties to the Taliban. The Pakistani group's leader, Fazlur Rehman, described in Pakistan as a "patron of jihad," has stated that his organization and the Ayub Laher's JuB "have a unanimity of thought and ideology."
Some of these charities have been provided with public funds to conduct, effectively, an extension of Government programs; many therefore regard the Inter Faith Network as an arm of the Department for Communities and Local Government. None of these charities, however, is subject to the same checks, such as Freedom of Information requests, that other Government bodies must undergo.
The Government urgently needs to change the freedom of information law: any registered charity in receipt of public funding should be as accountable as the the Government department that provides it.
The National Audit Office's report was extremely critical of the Charity Commission. It surmised that the Commission is not investigating abuses properly and is "too passive in pursuing its objectives, letting practical and legal barriers prevent action, rather than considering alternative ways to prevent abuse of charitable status and developing a sufficiently persuasive case for legislative change."
The charitable sector is out of control. In the UK, charities such as the Islamic Education and Research Academy promote gender segregation, and its trustees have encouraged hatred against Jews; while abroad, charities such as One Nation express support for jihadist forces in Syria.
The recent appointment of William Shawcross to head the Charity Commission was an excellent choice, but without the proper political backing, it not clear that even he will be able to accomplish much. The UK urgently requires more aggressive regulations with stronger statutory powers that can instantly sanction trustees if they are found to be connected with terror groups and freeze taxpayer funds to charities that work against the public good.