Millions lost in Iranian charity black hole
By Tom Baldwin
The Times (London)
September 15, 2000
THE Charity Commission will today announce the closure of an aid organisation
for victims of human rights abuses in Iran after a two-year investigation
showed that millions of pounds donated in Britain each year were disappearing
into a "black hole".
Around Pounds 600,000 belonging to Iran Aid will be confiscated and
given to a new charity which is being set up to provide help for refugees
from the fundamentalist Tehran regime.
The decision marks the end of a saga which has included High Court challenges,
a 20-month sit-in demonstration at the Iran Aid's Barnet headquarters and
finally the disappearance of the charity's records and accounts.
At one stage Iran Aid workers even threatened to commit suicide if the
documents were removed from the building, and the police advised the commission
to back down amid fears that there was a risk of serious public disorder.
Supporters of the group claim that it is the victim of a political vendetta
led by the Foreign Office, which has been keen to improve relations with
the Iranian Government.
They have alleged that the Charity Commission's administrator investigating
the group has links to the Iranians and could put lives at risk by disclosing
details of its secret network. The Charity Commission has dismissed such
claims and has made an official complaint to the police about the refusal
to release the documents.
Before the start of the investigation Iran Aid was one of Britain's
largest charities, raising around Pounds 5million a year, much of it through
high street volunteers.
The commission received complaints from former Iran Aid employees that
the money was in fact being sent on to the MKO terrorist organisation.
In spite of a lengthy investigation, including contacts with British
diplomats and other charities working in the region, the commission was
unable to discover where the money was going after it was sent to Dubai.
It was eventually decided that the disappearance of all records and
accounts made the investigation impossible.
Simon Gillespie, director of operations at the Charity Commission, said
yesterday: "The financial arrangements of Iran Aid are complex and
secretive. After two years' investigation we still cannot find any verifiable
links between the money donated by the British public and charitable work
in Iran. Until our intervention in 1998, Pounds 5million or so a year had
been pouring into a black hole."