The Charity Commission is "looking into" concerns over the sale by the Spiritualist Association of Great Britain of its historic headquarters in London, which was resold months later for more than three times the value under mysterious circumstances.
The Association, which seeks to offer evidence of the continuation of personality after death, sold its headquarters in London's prestigious Belgrave Square in 2011, claiming that the repairing lease and cost of running the building were "becoming onerous".
In a candid timeline on its website the Association advises that it sought first to buy the freehold for Belgrave Square in order to justify the substantial investment required in the building's repairs and renovations, but this proved too costly. The charity advised the move to sell the 175-year-old building at number 33 Belgrave Square was "probably the most poignant and difficult decision for the Association to make", saying it "was agreed by the board of trustees after much soul-searching and in a sign of the times and age, for sound economic and business reasons".
But questions have been raised by the Guardian newspaper about the move which, it claims, has seen millions of pounds exit the UK under "unusual" circumstances. Firstly, employees were asked to sign a confidentiality agreement after the sale to a "secret bidder":
"The Guardian has established, however, that Belgrave Square was sold for what now appears to be the relatively low sum of £6m to an anonymous [sic] offshore entity registered in the British Virgin Islands (BVI), called Platinum Prime Property Investments Ltd. The BVI is notorious for allowing UK property owners to conceal their identities," said the newspaper.
"The second unusual feature was that, according to records obtained by the Guardian, Platinum Prime agreed immediately to resell the property. What was most unusual of all was that it was to be sold on to a third party for the massively increased sum of £21m...As a result of these opaque transactions, a £15m profit appears to have travelled anonymously offshore, and the members of the Spiritualist Association, the SAGB, seem to have gained only a fraction of the apparent market value of their asset," it added.
The charity's accounts for 2011 confirm that the charity received £5.79m profit from the sale of the leasehold property which it advised at the time would be reserved for the purchase of a new freehold headquarters. It currently resides in rented accommodation in nearby Belgrave Road, and plans to secure a permanent address in the next year or so.
The Guardian, meanwhile, has submitted enquiries to the Commission which has confirmed that it is looking into the scenario:
"I can confirm that the Charity Commission is looking into concerns regarding the Spiritualist Association of Great Britain and considering them against our risk framework to determine whether there is a regulatory role for us in this matter. The concerns relate to the sale of the charity’s headquarters. We have not yet engaged with the charity, and we are not investigating it," said a spokeswoman for the regulator.
The Spiritualist Association did not respond to requests for comment on the matter.
An approved planning application dated 29 May 2012 details intentions to turn 33 Belgrave Square and neighbouring 29 Belgrave Mews into a "single family dwelling".