CANON ANDREW WHITE has been censured by the Charity Commission after an investigation concluded that he tried to pay money to secure the release of young girls held as sex slaves by Islamic State (IS).
Canon White, a former Chaplain of St George’s, Baghdad”, founded and led the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East (FRRME) until 2016, when he was suspended and the Commission began its inquiries.
Although a separate Metropolitan Police investigation into the alleged terrorist financing ended with no action taken against Canon White, the Charity Commission’s findings are that, on the balance of probabilities, the clergyman “had intended to secure the release of individuals from Islamic State”.
Despite this intent, however, there was no evidence that any money given as charitable donations to FRRME ended up in the hands of IS.
Nevertheless, the Commission concluded that Canon White’s actions “fell well below that expected and required of a charity trustee”, and that he had engaged in such serious misconduct that it was likely to cause damage to the income and reputation of his foundation.
Since the investigation began in 2016 (News, 1 July 2016), Canon White has left the FRRME and established a new organisation, Jerusalem Merit. Both charities primarily work to support Christian refugees living in Jordan.
On Monday, Canon White said that he had done nothing wrong: “The report explains basically what happened, but it doesn’t identify the realities of what we are trying to do,” he said.
“At no time, ever, did we pay any money to the terrorists. That was absolutely clear. We refused to pay any money to the terrorists, and all we did was pay for these sex slaves — for their rehabilitation, for mattresses, and places to live when they were released.”
In addition to the allegations of IS ransoms, the Charity Commission also found repeated examples of Canon White’s failing to abide by rules on charity spending. He and his assistant often used a FRRME credit card for personal spending, and, even after the other trustees of the charity made Canon White repay this money, it would happen again.
In addition, only five per cent of the £38,521 spent on the credit card could be supported by financial records, the Commission found. Canon White also tried to commit the charity to significant financial outlays, such as hiring new staff, without seeking the approval of the other trustees.
Finally, when the FRRME trustees did suspend Canon White, he then broke the terms of his suspension by posting about it on his Facebook page and asking for donations for his personal expenses.
In a statement, FRRME said that it had co-operated fully since reporting the allegations to the Charity Commission in 2016, and accepted the inquiry’s findings.
“The charity has taken significant steps to improve its governance and continues to closely monitor and review all governance matters,” it said. Since Canon White left in 2016, it had appointed a new, experienced chief executive and three new trustees, and overhauled its financial controls, risk management, and whistle-blowing policy.
The chief executive of FRRME, Mike Simpson, said: “The events of 2016 recounted in the Charity Commission report prompted swift action by the trustees. This included major improvements to the governance of the charity.
“The Commission acknowledges that the trustees co-operated with the inquiry throughout and recognises the steps taken by the trustees which put the charity in a much stronger position going forward.
“I am delighted to have been able to assist the trustees in making these improvements. I believe that this robust and effective governance enables the charity to move forward with confidence. We have a mission to bring hope, help, and healing to the Middle East, and we are demonstrating our ability to do that through the generosity of our supporters across the world.”
Canon White said that his new organisation had tighter controls on spending: “We have changed our charity very considerably. . . All the money is strictly controlled, and the trustees are very involved in it. I personally am not a trustee and do not decide on the use of money. The money now is all used to support our Iraqi refugees in Jordan; most of these people were part of my community when I was Vicar of St George’s, Baghdad.”
He said that he was sad about being forced out of FRRME, and that the work he was doing then was now being carried on by Jerusalem Merit, not his former organisation.
Despite this, he was confident that this episode would not tarnish his reputation: “I doubt it very much, because the people who know me . . . know they can trust me.”
The Charity Commission has been carrying out a separate investigation of Jerusalem Merit since January last year. Earlier this week, it judged that its concerns were so great that it appointed a solicitor to act as interim manager of the charity.