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Pastor to repay £200,000 after charity probed

02 November 2006

THE CHARITY COMMISSION has warned that trustees must not let personal interests conflict with their duties as trustees, after the pastor of one of Britain's fastest-growing churches agreed to repay £200,000.

The pastor, Matthew Ashimolowo, agreed  to give the money to a new charity set up to run his church, after a Charity Commission inquiry found a "serious" lack of control over the finances of King's Ministries Trust in Hackney, east London.

Mr Ashimolowo signed a contract with the new charity, now called Kingsway International Christian Centre (KICC), after the assets from the former trust were transferred to it.

The assets of the old charity had been taken over by receivers and managers appointed by the Charity Commission after its "review visit" in March 2002, which raised concerns over governance, the extent of unauthorised trustee borrowing, financial controls, and how the trustees managed conflicts of interest. It found cash collections were not properly controlled: substantial payments were made out of the cash before it was banked.

On a subsequent visit in September 2002, the commission found that boxes containing finance papers were being loaded into a car from the charity's finance office. The two trustees present said the papers were being moved to storage, but the commission found that a "significant amount of material" related to the current financial year, the report said. "These events showed at the very least a serious lack of control on the part of the trustees."

The King's Ministries Trust was established in 1992. It operated mainly from London, and in 2001 had an income of more than £7 million.

Among the concerns raised by the inquiry was £40,000 spent by the charity on Mr Ashimolowo's birthday party, at which he was given private use of a new £80,000 Mercedes when it was not being used by the charity.

Four of the six trustees were pastors in the church and received payment from the charity, the report said. Trustees are not entitled to receive benefits from the charity they oversee.

Mr Ashimolowo, and his wife, both trustees, received £384,601 between 1992 and 2000. Most of this was paid into his private company, MAWO, for "pastoral services". Moreover, they and their family were living, rent-free, in accommodation owned by the trust. The couple also received £141,415 in payments from the congregation.

The other two pastors received £391,744 over the same period. The remaining two trustees were based in the US and received honoraria of $127,500.

The trustees delegated control of the charity to a pastoral board made up of the four UK trustees. The only limit to this board's power was that it could not spend more than £1 million in a single transaction.

The receiver and managers recommended a new charity be set up, that the new trustees have clearly defined roles, and that the senior pastor should have an employment contract and not be a trustee.

The new charity was set up in February 2004 and has continued to grow: its income last year was £8,539,000.

The professional work authorised by the receiver cost £787,900, but in the process £19.5 million was safeguarded, the report says.


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