Former Muslim charity boss siphonned off funds for private benefit

Former Helping Hands boss Mohammed Ashfaq

The former trustee of a Muslim aid charity has been banned from acting as a company director or charity trustee for 12 years after it was found that he and his family had received more than £150,000 in unauthorised private benefit from the charity.

A report on the Charity Commission’s inquiry into the now-defunct charity Helping Hands for the Needy was published on Monday.

Helping Hands used to have a high media-profile, asking the public for donations on platforms such as Islam Channel.

According to its publicity, Helping Hands had sweeping ambitions: “The relief of poverty and sickness anywhere in the world, and in particular, those affected by natural causes or by wars and conflicts, foreign and domestic, by the provision of financial or other assistance including medicines, hospitals, shelter, food, clothing, sanitation and clean drinking water.”

But the Charity Commission says that after concerns were raised by a member of the public about financial mismanagement at the charity, the commission opened a regulatory compliance case into it in 2009. This was escalated to a statutory inquiry in 2010.

Several trustees of the charity, whose most-recently filed accounts with the regulator show that it had an income of £376,133 in 2008/09, had resigned before the case was opened in 2009, and another resigned before the inquiry was opened, leaving two remaining trustees – Mohammed Ashfaq and Syed Mohammed Zafar Iqbal.

Charity-collection-tin-001The inquiry found Ashfaq, 44 and from Harrow, had sole control of the charity’s bank account and that none of the former trustees had had any oversight of the charity’s expenditure at Ashfaq’s hands.

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The commission found evidence that Ashfaq and his family received substantial amounts of unauthorised private benefit from the charity, including payments in the region of £134,000 to companies connected to Ashfaq and the family, payments totalling £14,854 for building work on his private residence, £9,000 for parking and speeding fines and other costs for running his car.

The commission also came across issues including inadequate record keeping in relation to the charity’s overseas projects and use of restricted funds, no evidence of regular trustee board meetings, and a failure to submit annual documents to the commission.

Ashfaq resigned as a trustee 12 days after the commission opened the statutory inquiry, meaning the commission was unable to disqualify him as a trustee.

The charity, which was registered by the commission in 2002, went into voluntary liquidation in March 2011, and legal action to recover funds from Ashfaq by the liquidator is ongoing.

In 2013, Ashfaq was disqualified from being a company director for a period of 12 years, and Iqbal for five years. Both bans also mean that they cannot be charity trustees in this time.

The commission’s report says that extensive information about the case was reported to the Metropolitan Police, who have since decided to take no action.

Helping Hands is now in liquidation and the Commission is taking legal action to recover misappropriated money.

Ashfaq currently lists himself on social media as a freelance fundraiser for an orphans’ charity.

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