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Muslim charity lashes back at regulator after cash seized at border

PUBLISHED: 07:00 18 October 2019

Human Aid UK's chairman Nur Choudhury, left, said the charity had its bank accounts closed during the Commission's last intervention. Picture: Isabel Infantes

Human Aid UK's chairman Nur Choudhury, left, said the charity had its bank accounts closed during the Commission's last intervention. Picture: Isabel Infantes

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An under-fire aid charity has accused the government of a "pattern of harassment" of Muslim organisations after a second inquiry was launched into its affairs.

A convoy of twenty ambulances was sent by Human Aid UK  to Syria in 2013. Picture: Isabel InfantesA convoy of twenty ambulances was sent by Human Aid UK to Syria in 2013. Picture: Isabel Infantes

People working for the Shadwell-based Human Aid UK were stopped at a port carrying cash for the charity on Tuesday, July 9.

Police seized the money and the Charity Commission has launched a statutory inquiry into the organization's affairs - the second in five years.

Human Aid UK reported the seizure as a serious incident and has engaged lawyers to try to wrest the funds back.

In a statement, it said the seizure was "heavy-handed" and claimed excessive use of force by police and border agencies was "symptomatic of the disproportionate harassment Muslim charities face".

It added: "Human AID UK trustees are concerned with this escalation. Trustees are also taking legal advice on challenging this undue scrutiny.

Concerns about governance and finances prompted the latest investigation, the Commission said.Concerns about governance and finances prompted the latest investigation, the Commission said.

"These actions take place in the context of a larger pattern of harassment of Muslim charities at UK borders and prolonged scrutiny of Muslim charities by the Commission."

Human Aid UK provides humanitarian support in developing countries and specialises in assisting people in war-torn regions.

Trustees at have been blocked from some cash transactions during the inquiry, which the Commission said was to protect the charity's property.

It marks the second probe into Human Aid UK by the watchdog after a previous investigation into its financial controls between 2014 and 2017.

In 2013 a volunteer was arrested over reports of unlicensed street collections, leading to a tightening-up of fundraising controls. T

hen in 2014 a fake collector was arrested in connection with fraudulent fundraising.

The first inquiry also examined invoices and receipts for ambulances during Human Aid UK's 2013 aid convoy to Syria, and how UK funds were applied to projects in Turkey and Syria, where it found due diligence records and monitoring had been "incomplete".

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Trustees were ordered to review internal processes as the Commission found "there had been misconduct and/opr mismanagement in the administration."

Human Aid UK's CEO , Lutfur Ali, left the charity in June and Human Aid UK also launched its own independent audit of the finances.

In a sharp response to the Charity Commission's latest announcement, trustees pointed out that the Commission's large-scale inquiry into allegations of child sexual exploitation at Oxfam had only lasted 16 months.

Founding chairman Nur Choudhury said: "Human Aid UK has endured bank account closures, denial of service and a Commission inquiry that lasted in practice over five years.

"Despite these obstacles and challenges we have continued to deliver the funds entrusted to us by donors in services and medical provisions for needy people across the world."

The legal team is in communication with police and the charity said it expects to retrieve the seized funds "very soon".

Saghir Hussain, the solicitor representing the organisation, said: "There will always be tension between the realpolitik of governments and the concerns of the humanitarian sector.

"When concerned citizens take personal risks to help the people of Syria and Gaza they should be applauded rather than subject to petty and coercive policies."

The Charity Commission has said it opened the fresh inquiry "due to mismanagement and/or misconduct" at the charity, adding that cash couriering was a "live risk" in the wider sector

Regulatory advice issued in 2017 cautions against cash couriering across borders.

The trustees' management of the charity and compliance with the law will be investigated, alongside its monitoring of overseas spending.

A spokeswoman for the Commission said: "We strongly reject any suggestion of bias in our investigative work.

"All concerns about charities are assessed against a clear regulatory and risk framework; where those assessments give rise to further concerns, we look into them in line with our usual processes.

"We publish transparency data about our inquiry work, and are clear that our investigations do not focus on any specific religious classification. Where issues persist or resurface in a particular charity, it is right that we monitor these or tackle them as necessary."

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