Salvation Army pursues missing 6.3m pounds

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The Independent Online
THE Salvation Army, Britain's largest provider of charity welfare, issued writs yesterday against two businessmen alleged to have defrauded it of pounds 6.3m.

Senior officers were anxious last night to emphasise that none of its charitable works would be affected by the loss.

But they admitted they had no idea how the money was taken or where it was, almost two months after its absence was discovered.

Stuart Ford of Birmingham; his company, Tilen Securities Inc; and an associate, Gamil Naguib, were the subject of High Court writs demanding the return of the money plus interest.

Captain Peter Smith, the Salvation Army's legal secretary, refused to discuss the men's involvement in the alleged fraud.

But he disclosed that a senior officer, an ordained minister, had been suspended from his duties, thought to be in the finance department of the Salvation Army's London headquarters.

The Salvation Army, which raised pounds 79m and spent pounds 78m on welfare projects last year, discovered that money involved in a transaction - dollars US8.8m - was missing at the end of December.

Captain Smith said approaches were made to Mr Ford and Mr Naguib for the return of the money, but only dollars 500,000 was forthcoming.

In January, a further dollars 520,000 was traced to a bank account in Luxembourg by the charity's accountants, Coopers and Lybrand, where it was frozen.

The rest of the money was missing and Captain Smith said it was not clear how it was taken.

'Coopers and Lybrand are still investigating,' he said. 'It is a very complex matter and we are not entirely sure how the money was taken or what was done with it.'

He said there was no suggestion that the suspended officer was corrupt and he was confident the money would be recovered.

'Our lawyers, Slaughter and May, have advised us that civil action is the fastest way to recover the money, but we will call in the police if they advise us to,' he added.

'Our main concern is that people should understand that our services will not be affected by this.

'We have been asked why people should give us their money after what has happened, but we have shown by our actions that we are competent to deal with the crisis and get this money back. People want to know whether this will force the closure of any of our hostels; the answer is 'No'.'

None of the organisation's services, run by 61,800 volunteers and 2,600 staff in the UK, would be affected, he said.

A further 12 writs were issued against individuals, banks and other bodies allowing them to divulge information that would otherwise be deemed confidential.

Mr Naguib could not be contacted last night. A woman at Mr Ford's pounds 135,000 home in Wythall near Bromsgrove, Hereford and Worcester, believed to be the daughter of his fiancee, said: 'He's not here, he's gone abroad. We have done absolutely nothing wrong.'

One of Mr Ford's next-door neighbours said: 'He said he travelled a lot and worked in security.

'He told me he was a former military man who retired from the Army. I would say he was in his late thirties or early forties. I think he left a couple of weeks ago.'