Press release

Charity regulator welcomes sentencing of fraudsters

Two former trustees sentenced to imprisonment.

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Charity Commission
Charity Commission

The Charity Commission, the independent regulator of charities in England and Wales, has welcomed today’s sentencing of Syed Hajnajafi to 5 years and Akila Kassam to 3 years imprisonment for defrauding the charity Afghan Poverty Relief (charity registration number 1103876) out of £350,000.

The Commission opened a statutory inquiry into the charity in February 2012 to investigate concerns relating to the alleged misappropriation of charity funds and concerns about the charity’s administration, governance and overall management. At the same time, the regulator took action to prevent the same two trustees from entering into certain transactions in the administration of the charity (see endnote 1).

Both individuals were suspended as trustees of the charity by the regulator on 4 July 2013, and formal notice of intention to remove Syed Hajnajafi from his position as trustee of the charity was issued in December 2013. Due to the criminal proceedings the removal process had to be put on hold.

The regulator has been working closely with the police throughout. One of the Commission’s officers gave evidence as a witness in the criminal proceedings and the regulator welcomed the convictions of Syed Hajnajafi and Akila Kassam that were handed down in April 2014.

By virtue of the convictions Syed Hajnajafi and Akila Kassam are disqualified from acting as charity trustees (see endnote 2).

The Commission is continuing to liaise with the police to see whether any of the stolen funds can be recovered for charity.

Commenting on today’s sentencing Michelle Russell, Head of Investigations and Enforcement at the Charity Commission, said:

We welcome the strong message given today that the abuse of charities for personal gain is taken seriously by the courts.

This was a case that highlights the particularly shameful behaviour of two individuals stealing from a charity and abusing the position of trust they were in. The money that was stolen should have been used to help children and other people in need in Afghanistan. Instead it was transferred to their personal accounts for their own use and they tried to cover this up.

We have worked closely with the police on this case over the last two and a half years to make sure that the fraudulent action of these two people was stopped and that it did not go unpunished. The Commission provided expert assistance to the criminal investigation and a member of staff was a witness in the criminal trial helping to secure the conviction. Joint working between the Commission and the police has again proved successful in bringing those that abuse charities to justice and upholding public trust and confidence in the sector.

The convictions support the Charity Commission’s concerns that there has been misconduct and mismanagement in the administration of this charity. The Commission’s investigation into the charity continues. It is the Commission’s policy, after it has concluded the inquiry, to publish a report detailing what issues the inquiry looked at, what actions were undertaken as part of the inquiry and what the outcomes were.Reports of previous inquiries by the Commission are available on its website.

Ends

PR 38/14

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Notes to Editors

  1. The Charity Commission is the independent regulator of charities in England and Wales.
  2. Our mission is to be the independent registrar and regulator of charities in England and Wales, acting in the public’s interest, to ensure that:
    • charities know what they have to do
    • the public know what charities do
    • charities are held to account
  3. The Commission has published advice for trustees on what charity trustees’ duties are in relation to ensuring strong financial controls are put in place on the Commission’s website: Internal financial controls for charities (CC8)

Endnotes

(1) This was a temporary and protective measure - an order was issued under section 76(3)(f) of the Charities Act 2011. In practice the trustees that were subject to the order were prevented from appealing for, collecting, soliciting or otherwise raising money or other property, either directly or indirectly, in the name of or on behalf of the charity without the prior written approval of the Commission, thereby mitigating any risk to future charitable funds collected by these individuals without preventing the charity from fundraising.

(2) Section 178(1) of the Act disqualifies individuals from acting as charity trustees in a number of cases, the first of which is when the individual has been convicted of any offence involving dishonesty or deception. Syed Hajnajafi will not be able to act as a trustee again in the future. Akila Kassam’s conviction will become spent 10 years after the end of the sentence under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974, and her disqualification will apply for this period.

Published 21 May 2014