Charity Commission has 'no jurisdiction' over board member's payment from Amnesty

Irene Khan

Charity Commission has 'no jurisdiction' over board member's payment from Amnesty12

Finance | Tania Mason | 21 Feb 2011

The Charity Commission has said it has no jurisdiction over Amnesty International making a valedictory payment of £530,000 to its former secretary general – now a Charity Commission board member - because the part of Amnesty that made the payment is not a charity.

Bernard Jenkin MP, chair of the Public Administration Select Committee which oversees the Charity Commission, told the Sunday Times yesterday that he wanted to know “whether the Charity Commission considers it to be part of its remit to regulate golden handshakes of this sort”.  

But the Charity Commission has distanced itself from the case. A spokeswoman said that as Amnesty International Ltd, which employed Irene Khan, is not a charity, the regulator has no interest.  She also said there is no issue in the fact that Irene Khan is a Commission board member, for the same reason. “It’s as if she was employed by a private company,” the spokeswoman said. “We have no jurisdiction.”

The payment of £530,000 to Irene Khan, plus another of £320,000 to her deputy Kate Gilmore who left at the same time as Khan, was revealed in the newly-published accounts of Amnesty International Ltd (AI Ltd), the not-for-profit company that undertakes charitable activities on behalf of Amnesty International Charity, a UK-registered charity.

According to the report, AI Ltd is “funded principally by AI’s national sections for the purpose of furthering the work of Amnesty International on a worldwide basis and to assist the work of other sections in specific countries as necessary”.

Khan joined Amnesty International as secretary-general in August 2001.  She was the first woman, the first Asian and the first Muslim to take the helm at the organisation.  However, her leadership was not universally popular – she attracted criticism for her insistence that human rights can only follow economic rights and her emphasis on tackling poverty ahead of political solutions.

Her annual salary when she resigned was £132,490.

She stepped down on 31 December 2009 and Salil Shetty was appointed to the role in July 2010.

When the payments first became public on Saturday, Peter Pack, chair of AI’s international executive committee said the payments were made “as part of a confidential agreement between AI Ltd and Irene Khan” and that “it is a term of this agreement that no further comment on it will be made by either party”.

But in a further statement released today, Pack insisted Ammesty was “fully committed to applying all the resources that we receive from our millions of supporters to the fight for human rights”.

He said the payment to Khan was a “unique situation” that would not be repeated.  He also said the board had considered it carefully and became convinced it was “in the best interest of Amnesty’s work”.

“The payment itself is made up of several elements, some of which dated back several years,” Pack said. “This was a unique situation. None of the current employees, including the new secretary general, are on the terms that applied to Ms Khan.

“The new secretary general, with the full support of the IEC, has initiated a process to review our employment policies and procedures to ensure that such a situation does not happen again.”

Amnesty International UK’s membership department said it had had “a couple” of donors cancelling their direct debits this morning as a result of the stories in the weekend papers.

Khan joined the board of the Charity Commission early last year shortly after she stepped down from Amnesty. She is currently the Chancellor of Salford University.

14 Jun 2011

It is utterly grotesque that a woman who was well paid for doing her job should, as part of her terms of severance, receive, after just 9 years in the job, a severance payment of over 4 times her salary. Here in the real world, after 30 years loyal public service my wife was made redundant with compensation of just over half a year's salary.
Ms Khan might (just) save her honour and the good reputation of Amnesty by returning £400,000 or so to support the causes she claims to take seriously.
Meanwhile, I am withholding the large sum of money I intended to donate to Amnesty in support of what I imagined to be its good humanitarian work, never thinking that it would go to line the deep pockets of some fatcat charitocrat.

Robin Rowley
2 Mar 2011

I just found out about this. I've been in Amnesty for many years. If it is true that she took so much money for herself, then Irene Kahn has hurt our good name and reputation, for sure. I fully expect her to return this money to those who need it so badly. There is no excuse, but there is still time for good to prevail.

28 Feb 2011

What a disgrace - shame on Irene Khan for extracting this payment, shame on the Charity Commission for not giving the job of commissioner to someone with a more genuine commitment to charitable causes, and shame on Amnesty for agreeing to such a contract - even the new SG apparently has a salary of £192,000 - isn't that about the same as the Prime Minister? How on earth is that justified? At a time of acute financial crisis, the charity sector needs to be led by people who inspire confidence and live by the values they espouse.

Edward Ingle
28 Feb 2011

This is an appalling example of what brings our whole charitable sector into disrepute. As someone who has worked in this sector for more than 20 years, the last 10 as a CEO on a fraction of her annual salary, I don't need this kind of bad publicity for my sector.

However they dress it up and however they hide behind legal loopholes, surely these payments have come out of AI, which is funded by its supporters' contributions.

No wonder that Ms Khan in your picture is smiling so smugly having just been handed a £1/2 million payout!

As for Ms Khan now being a Cahrity Commission member, I would suggest that her credibility in this role, in light of the payout, is NIL!

23 Feb 2011

Difficult to stomach - neither Amnesty nor Ms K are doing themselves any favours by not explaining this more fully
Ex-donor !

23 Feb 2011

How could the Charity Commission have any say in the matter (even if Amnesty was a registerd charity) with Irene Kahn a board member? This sounds like a bad joke!
A disgusted but undaunted Amnesty member.

23 Feb 2011

According there last set of accounts the real original error was made in not allowing AI Ltd to not become a registered charitable company. Then it would have then had a possible say in this sort of issue and addressed with regard to public interest

Eric Colvin
24 Feb 2011
Response to [Gary ]

I'm a little confused by your double negatives. What are you saying, here? Is it that, were AI Ltd a registered charitable company, Irene Khan's colleagues at the Charity Commission could then have prevented her payout? If so, I find this unlikely.

I can quite understand why contractual law would make it very difficult for a Ltd company (indeed, even for a charity) to renege on any pay agreement.

But I can't understand how Irene Khan (the originator of the Demand Dignity campaign in resistance to ruthless, corporate exploitation of impoverished communities) can square this with her conscience. She must understand that such a diversion of charitable funds towards a single worker smacks of legalised embezzlement.

It seems to me that she has a moral obligation to "reinvest" at least two thirds of her handsome windfall back into Amnesty's work - about which (at any rate, until 2009) she has professed to be passionate.

Or does she - like Qadaffi, or Arafat, or Mugabe - simply see herself as such a great leader, striding the world stage, that she is somehow divinely entitled to the sort of bonuses about which world statesmen like Blair or Cameron might only dream?

Unless she has already returned the bulk of this payout, then this whole affair stinks, to me, of hypocrisy.

Norman Ridley
25 Feb 2011
Response to [Eric Colvin]

Exactly my reaction. How can someone who has seen how desperate is the need for this money to be used for Amnesty's work take so much out of the 'pot'?

Carl Allen
24 Feb 2011
Response to [Eric Colvin]

So was the settlement paid as damages in relation to an employment outrage or a human rights outrage or both or?

Until that is known, it looks like Amnesty has a lot to hide.

Marian Nicholson
22 Feb 2011

Amnesty is taking us for a ride. I'm stopping my standing order!

4 Mar 2011
Response to [Marian Nicholson]

My standing has been stopped after I heard about this, save your money and place it elsewhere. A complete and utter disgrace!


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