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UK regulator opens probe into Hindu charity

world Updated: Mar 14, 2017 20:49 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Charity Commission

The Charity Commission said it had concerns about the ability of BWT’s trustees to account for funds transferred to India between April 1, 2010 and March 31, 2015, and the basis on which donations for a specific project were held.(Photo Courtesy: Charity Commission)

Britain’s regulator of charity organisations has opened an investigation into what it called ‘serious issues’ in Bhaarat Welfare Trust (BWT), which seeks to promote Hindu religion and culture, and contributes to charity work in India.

The Charity Commission said on Tuesday it had concerns about the ability of the Leicester-based charity’s trustees to account for funds transferred to India between April 1, 2010 and March 31, 2015, and the basis on which donations for a specific project were held.

In 2016, the trust’s income was declared to be £1,198,957, most of which came from voluntary donations. Its expenditure during the year was £1,280,534, mostly for charitable activities. Its founder-trustee is Kenya-born Kantilal Parmanand Unnadkat.

BWT, according to local reports, had offered to hold on behalf of a group £96,000 it had collected from the public for a ‘Shantidham’ crematorium for Leicester’s Hindu and Sikh population. But when a suitable location could not be found for 10 years, the Shantidham group that raised the money (but was not a registered charity) demanded the money back.

In a statement, BWT said last year that its trustees decided that the Shantidham crematorium project was no longer feasible and had no prospect of completion. As a result, the £96,000 raised for Shantidham was donated to charitable projects in India.

According to Vinod Popat from Shantidham, “BWT refused to meet up with us or reply to our letters. The money belongs to the people of Leicester and Leicestershire. Yes it's a lot of money and a lot of people are aggrieved.”

Charity Commission said its inquiry will examine whether the trustees acted prudently in relation to the financial administration and management of the charity; whether the trustees complied with and fulfilled their duties and responsibilities as trustees under charity law; whether the trustees have protected the charity’s assets, including its reputation in relation to the ongoing dispute with another registered charity; and whether legal action taken against another charity is lawful and if so, whether use of charitable funds on this action is justifiable.

The commission said: “The Commission conducted a books and records inspection at the charity in May 2015, and identified a number of serious regulatory concerns about the financial management of the charity”.

“In particular the Commission had concerns about the ability of the trustees to account for funds transferred to India between 1 April 2010 and 31 March 2015, the basis on which donations for a specific project were held, unmanaged conflicts of interests and whether Gift Aid had been validly claimed by the charity”.

“In August 2015 the regulator issued an action plan for the trustees to address these concerns. However the charity’s response provided in November 2015 was lacking. Further meetings were held in August and November 2016 but the trustees failed to address the Commission’s concerns. The Commission has further serious concerns relating to legal action taken by the charity regarding a dispute between the charity and another UK registered charity”.

The regulator, however, stressed that opening an inquiry is not in itself a finding of wrong doing. The inquiry report will be published at a later date, it added.