The Charity Commission has opened two statutory inquiries, into The Aspinall Foundation and Howletts Wild Animal Trust, it announced yesterday.
Carrie Symonds, a former Conservative Party communications director, joined the Aspinall Foundation, earlier this year.
Both charities have trustees in common, but are separate entities, and are subject to separate investigations.
The Aspinall Foundation, which promotes animal conservation, is being investigated over serious concerns about its governance and financial management.
The regulator says it began examining the charity in July 2020 over concerns about the management of conflicts of interest and related-party transactions.
At that point it opened a regulatory compliance case and began engaging with the trustees regarding these concerns in November of last year.
The Aspinall Foundation's income for the financial year ending 31 December 2019 was more than £2.8m.
In 2018, the Foundation paid Mrs Aspinall, the wife of JD Aspinall, £50,000 for interior design services. In 2019, she was paid £12,000.
For the year ended 31 December 2018, accounts show that during the year, the Foundation received £34,823 (2017 - £30,299) from JD Aspinall as for rent of Howletts Mansion and other recharges. Its most recent accounts show the Foundation received £30,000 for rent and other charges.
In 2019, JD Aspinall was reimbursed more than £18,000 for expenses incurred on behalf of the Foundation.
Although the regulator says the trustees have been fully cooperating with the Commission it has identified further questions regarding the charity’s governance, and it will now examine all these issues as part of a formal statutory inquiry.
One line of inquiry will examine whether or not there has been any unauthorised trustee benefit.
A spokesman for The Aspinall Foundation said: “The Aspinall Foundation remains firmly committed to its ethical and legal duties as a charitable body. Our trustees will continue to work openly and transparently with the Charity Commission to ensure best practice governance and compliance.”
It added that no further comment will be issued until the investigation is complete.
The Howletts Wild Animal Trust
Meanwhile the inquiry into The Howletts Wild Animal Trust is also over serious concerns about the charity’s governance and financial management.
The regulator began looking into the charity, which runs two wildlife parks in Kent, in December 2019 due to concerns about the charity’s management of conflicts of interest and a related-party transaction.
Although trustees have cooperated fully with the Commission since it first engaged with them last year, the regulator still has concerns about related party transactions, “meaning that it is now necessary to examine these issues as part of a formal statutory inquiry”.
A spokesman for The Howletts Wild Animal Trust said: “The Howletts Wild Animal Trust remains firmly committed to its ethical and legal duties as a charitable body. Our trustees will continue to work openly and transparently with the Charity Commission to ensure best practice governance and compliance. No further comment will be issued until the investigation is complete.”