A charity set up to help Gazans may not have conducted any charitable activity, the Charity Commission has said in a damning report.
Viva Palestina was set up in January 2009 by a group which included George Galloway, the former Labour and Respect MP, with the aim of “alleviating the suffering and to help the people of Gaza re-build their land”.
It was removed from the register of charities following an inquiry in 2013, four years after the Charity Commission, which regulates the sector in the UK, opened its first statutory investigation into it.
On Thursday, the commission published its findings from the 2013 inquiry, saying that Viva Palestina “may not have conducted any charitable activity or distributed any humanitarian aid”.
It said: “It was difficult for the inquiry to establish with any certainty whether any charitable activity had taken place, as it found little if any evidence that humanitarian aid was distributed to those in need in accordance with the charity’s objects.”
It also concluded that the charity’s trustees failed to meet certain legal duties, including the maintenance of proper financial records, safeguarding the charity’s assets, providing financial records and addressing the Charity Commission’s concerns.
It said: “Whilst the inquiry saw some evidence that monies had been used to purchase medical supplies in line with the charity’s objects, the commission concludes that the charity’s financial and other records were so poor that it was difficult to establish with any certainty whether any charitable activity had taken place.”
One of the trustees, however, was found to have received payments from Viva Palestina and that mobile phones and radios were purchased at “significant” expenditure.
The charity raised £3,258 in an appeal for cement but no cement was ever purchased.
Michelle Russell, the Charity Commission’s director of investigations, monitoring and enforcement, said: “Our investigation into Viva Palestina found that it was a wholly inadequately managed charity.
“A trustee is by its name a trusted position, acting for the public benefit to help others. The public has a right to expect that those who serve as charity trustees take their responsibilities seriously, properly accounting for the charity’s income, assets, activities and its expenditure.
“This didn’t happen in the case of Viva Palestina. Our inquiry shows that the former trustees did not pay proper attention to the legal responsibilities involved in running a charity and handling funds donated by the public.
“We found little evidence that the intended beneficiaries received the support intended, despite the extensive fundraising by Viva Palestina. The former trustees thus badly let down the public to whom the charity is accountable.”
After it was founded in 2009, Viva Palestina did not apply to register as a charity, although the Charity Commission decided it should be considered as such “based on [its] media fundraising campaign”, it said.
The 2009 statutory inquiry was opened after the regulator “exhausted all reasonable methods of dialogue” with Viva Palestina, it said.
Viva Palestina has been approached for comment.