Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 15 October 2019

UK charity watchdog launches inquiry into Gaza aid group after cash seized at airport

It is the second investigation the Charity Commission has launched against Syria and Gaza aid group Human Aid UK

A young Palestinian throws a stone towards Israeli forces near the maritime border with Israel during the Great March of Return protests. AFP / Said Khatib
A young Palestinian throws a stone towards Israeli forces near the maritime border with Israel during the Great March of Return protests. AFP / Said Khatib

The UK’s charity watchdog has launched an investigation into a group delivering aid to Gaza after counterterrorism police seized a large amount of cash at Britain’s busiest airport.

The Charity Commission has opened a statutory inquiry – its most serious level of investigation – in the charity Human Aid UK.

It comes after police seized funds from individuals carrying cash on behalf of charity on July 9.

Now the watchdog has also frozen some access to its accounts.

The group claimed its members were travelling to Gaza to deliver aid when they were stopped at Heathrow Airport by border police under powers contained within schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000.

The watchdog says officials had visited the office of the charity the day before the stop took place and had highlighted procedures for carrying cash.

Human Aid UK was previously under investigation by the watchdog in 2014 due to concerns over its governance and finances.

In a statement the Charity Commission said: “On 9 July 2019 charitable funds were seized by the police during a port stop from individuals carrying cash on behalf of the charity. The charity reported a serious incident to the Commission following this.

“Cash couriering is a live risk in the wider charity sector and of regulatory interest to the Commission. The Commission's regulatory advice, issued in 2017, cautions against cash couriering.

“As a result of regulatory concerns the Commission opened a statutory inquiry into Human Aid UK on 2 August 2019. As a temporary and protective measure, the inquiry has exercised its power to restrict the trustees from certain cash transactions in order to protect the charity’s property.”

Last month Human Aid UK claimed it was looking at taking legal action against the police on the grounds it had been placed under “undue scrutiny”.

Nur Choudhury, UK chair of Human Aid, said: “Human Aid UK is a humanitarian charity specialised in assisting victims in war-torn regions. The restrictions and pressures of delivering aid to such zones can on occasion require the use of cash to purchase materials, resources or medicine.

“There are perfectly lawful provisions for the management of such processes. To assist charities in doing so, the Commission has robust procedures which we follow closely.

“Excessive use of force by police and border agencies, symptomatic of the disproportionate harassment Muslim charities face, has led to the unnecessary disruption of our work and lifesaving aid missions we send out. Our legal team is in communication with the police and we expect to retrieve the seized funds very soon.”

A spokesperson for the Home Office said the police investigation into Human Aid UK is ongoing and could not comment on an active case.

Latest figures reveal 50 per cent of the Charity Commission’s inquiries into religious groups involve Islamic aid groups, accounting for one in 20 of all its inquiries.

The number of inquiries it has launched against Islamic charities has more than tripled since 2015, according to its transparency data.

Updated: September 24, 2019 04:32 PM

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