A charity founded by George Galloway which claimed it had raised £1m in aid bound for the Gaza Strip “may not have conducted any charitable activity or distributed any humanitarian aid”, according to the findings of a Charity Commission statutory inquiry.
The former MP founded Viva Palestina in 2009 when Charity Commission told Galloway that a fundraising appeal for aid in Gaza he was running had to be registered as a charity. An earlier inquiry cleared the charity of having links to the ruling party in Gaza, Hamas, but was criticised for its governance.
Galloway was not a trustee, but he did front some media activity for Viva Palestina, was described as its founder and used his social media activity to encourage people to donate.
A second inquiry was opened in 2013 and an interim manager was appointed in 2014. The Commission also removed the charity from the register in 2013. The findings of that second inquiry were published yesterday.
Poor financial records
In yesterday’s report the Commission said that there was some evidence that the charity had bought medical supplies, but its records were so poor that “it was difficult to establish with any certainty whether any charitable activity had taken place” and that the inquiry found “little or no evidence that humanitarian aid was distributed to those in need”.
It also found that one of the charity’s former trustees had received payments from the charity and that mobile phones and radios were purchased with charity funds at “significant expenditure”.
In 2011 the charity spent over £17,000 on mobile phone contracts.
According to the report, draft financial statements for 31 July 2010 showed fixed assets amounting to £10,146. These included a range of IT equipment such as laptops, printer, a satellite phone and a desk. But it said: “As the charity did not have an operational address, the whereabouts of these fixed assets remains unknown.”
Michelle Russell, director of investigations, monitoring and enforcement at the Charity Commission said: “Our investigation into Viva Palestina found that it was a wholly inadequately managed charity. A trustee is by its name a trusted position, acting for the public benefit to help others.
“The public has a right to expect that those who serve as charity trustees take their responsibilities seriously, properly accounting for the charity’s income, assets, activities and its expenditure. This didn’t happen in the case of Viva Palestina.
"Our inquiry shows that the former trustees did not pay proper attention to the legal responsibilities involved in running a charity and handling funds donated by the public.
“We found little evidence that the intended beneficiaries received the support intended, despite the extensive fundraising by Viva Palestina. The former trustees thus badly let down the public to whom the charity is accountable.”
The Commission said that it considered using its powers to ban those connected to the charity from future trusteeships, but the lack of records and uncertainty about who actually was a trustee meant it could not.
It said it has kept a note in case they seek to become trustees in the future.
Galloway: It was never meant to be a charity
Galloway, who was an MP until 2015, responded to the Commission’s findings on Twitter by saying the organisation was “never a charity”.
He also criticised the Commission for the timing of the report.
After TEN years the “Charity Commission” which forcibly “Charitabilised” the Viva Palestina convoys to break the siege on #Gaza and which hundreds of media reports alleged to be “handing over aid to Hamas” (I was even briefly banned from Canada over it) says there was no aid!— George Galloway (@georgegalloway) June 6, 2019
Dear @guardian I was never a trustee nor an employee of VivaPalestina (many years dead) so your report headline describing it as “Galloway Charity” is a deliberate smear out of your Manafort/Assange stable. Moreover it was never a charity nor intended to be. It was 100% political— George Galloway (@georgegalloway) June 6, 2019
Media reports in 2009 said that hundreds of volunteers were involved in a 110-strong aid convoy delivering £1m of aid to Gaza. At the time Galloway told the BBC: "It is a massive and peaceful movement in support of the beleaguered population of Gaza and Palestine.
"It is happening everywhere, but is especially strong in the north of England and especially among young Muslims."