Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 June 2019

Syria refugee charity closed over cash claims

Trustee banned after being stopped at airports with large sums of money

Syrian refugees arriving in Turkey, which offered them a safe haven from fighting in Syria. Photo: AP
Syrian refugees arriving in Turkey, which offered them a safe haven from fighting in Syria. Photo: AP

Regulators have closed down a British charity working with Syrian refugees after one of its trustees was twice stopped at airports trying to take thousands of pounds out of the UK.

Police stopped Yusuf Kenan Oguz under counter-terrorism laws in 2016 at Luton Airport and confiscated more than £3,000 after he failed to be “transparent and open” with officers, according to a report published on Thursday by the Charity Commission.

Mr Oguz, 56, claimed that the money was to support a school for Syrian refugees in Gaziantep, Turkey, but regulators said they were concerned that funds from the charity – Save the Needy Worldwide - were used to fund his lifestyle.

It emerged that he had previously been stopped carrying £12,000 while travelling through London’s Heathrow Airport while a trustee of another charity, Worldwide Ummah Aid.

The money was later forfeited under proceeds of crime legislation. Worldwide Ummah Aid is also under investigation.

Regulators launched an inquiry into Save the Needy Worldwide in 2015 which resulted in Mr Oguz being removed as a trustee because of financial and management failings.

Mr Oguz denied any wrongdoing and appealed against the ruling. However, his appeal was rejected after judges said there was no “credible explanation” why he was not able to transfer the money electronically to the charity’s agent in Turkey.

“Our inquiry found that the trustees of Save the Needy Worldwide were responsible for a series of failings at their charity amounting to serious misconduct and mismanagement,” said Michelle Russell, the regulator’s head of investigations.

“It’s therefore right that robust regulatory actions have been taken against those responsible. The charity has also been dissolved as a result of our action.”

The findings come two years after police warned charities not to carry cash abroad after counter-terrorist officers seized about £4 million in two years at ports and airports. It warned that cash couriering was a method known to be used by terrorists and criminals.

The Charity Commission said it did not identify any terrorist issues in its inquiry into Save the Needy Worldwide. Mr Ogun could not be contacted for comment.

Updated: February 21, 2019 05:55 PM