Senior vicar ‘considered paying Isis $17,500 to free sex slaves’, charity watchdog finds

Canon Andrew White says he never intended to transfer money to the terrorist group

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Friday 17 January 2020 16:00 GMT
Canon Andrew White at a 2007 service for the release of five kidnapped British citizens at St George’s church in Baghdad
Canon Andrew White at a 2007 service for the release of five kidnapped British citizens at St George’s church in Baghdad (Getty)

A prominent clergyman known as the “vicar of Baghdad” has been accused of considering paying Isis $17,500 (£13,500) to free sex slaves.

Canon Andrew White was president of the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East (FRRME) when he discussed ways to free girls enslaved by the terrorist group as part of a genocide against Iraq’s Yazidi minority.

The Charity Commission said there were a number of documents written by Rev White “that the commission considers indicate his intent to pay funds – either directly or indirectly – to Isis”.

However, a report released on Friday concluded that it had “not identified any evidence of charitable funds being used to secure the release of hostages”.

In an email sent in June 2016, Rev White wrote that donations “were used specifically for the issue of buying back the women who had been taken as sex slaves by Isis”.

In another email to FRRME trustees, he asked whether it would be legal for him to make a payment for “buying back the sex slaves” personally rather than through the charity.

Rev White told The Independent that he had never intended to give Isis money or made any transfer that would reach the group, and had been helping a group supporting released Yazidi women.

The Charity Commission said that Rev White requested $17,500 from two institutions in the USA be paid directly to them at a fundraising event, rather than to the FRRME.

The charity raised concerns that the money may be paid to Isis to secure the release of two slaves, sparking an investigation by the Charity Commission and police, but the transfer did not take place and the funds were recovered.

The 56-year-old, who served as the vicar of St George’s Church in Baghdad until he was told to leave for his own safety in 2014, resigned from FRRME after the probe started.

The Charity Commission had suspended him as a trustee and shared information with the Metropolitan Police, who investigated Rev White under terrorist financing laws which ban any payment to proscribed groups.

He was interviewed under caution and had his Hampshire home searched by officers, but was later informed that no further action would be taken.

Rev White told The Independent: “At no time did we ever pay any money to Isis or any terrorist organisation.

“All that I was involved in doing is paying for support for Isis sex slaves when they were released. This was a completely benign organisation that was housing these girls who had nowhere to go. Never did we pay for their release.”

Yazidi women speak of rape and beatings at the hands of Isis

The clergyman, who is still involved in charitable projects for Iraqi refugees in Jordan, said he had been “involved in hostage negotiations” previously but did not pay ransoms.

Rev White has multiple sclerosis and the Charity Commission inquiry “noted that some of his conduct and behaviour could have been related to ill health”.

But the report accused the father-of-two of breaching other financial controls, concluding: “An inquiry has found that serious misconduct and/or mismanagement by one trustee was likely to have caused significant damage to the FRRME’s income and reputation, and that there was mismanagement of that trustee by the other trustees.”

The regulator said only 5 per cent of £38,521 that Rev White and his assistant spent on a charity credit card was properly accounted for and “personal expenditure” was not addressed.

It found that he purchased a car in Israel for $70,000 (£53,000) in April 2015, which was registered it to the charity’s Israeli consultant.

Rev White was also involved in the now-defunct Naaman Trust, where a 2010 Charity Commission inquiry found poor governance and management.

After becoming a Church of England vicar in 1990, he went on to be appointed a canon at Coventry Cathedral in 1998 and moved into international ministry work.

Asked about the financial allegations, he said FRRME had introduced new policies and added: “We dismissed the person who was my assistant because we were not getting the receipts we required.”

Andrew White praying for the release of five kidnapped British citizens at a 2007 service at St George’s church in Baghdad (Getty)
Andrew White praying for the release of five kidnapped British citizens at a 2007 service at St George’s church in Baghdad (Getty) (Muhannad Fala'ah/Getty Images)

The Charity Commission said staff had indicated concerns about Rev White’s financial conduct since 2013 but had “ineffective oversight” of his actions and had not applied controls robustly.

He was also accused of breaking the conditions of his 2016 suspension by “making statements on Facebook advising the public of the suspension and soliciting funds for his own personal expenses”.

The Charity Commission said FRRME cooperated with its inquiry, has improved its management and oversight procedures, and appointed three new trustees and a CEO.

Tim Hopkins, the regulator’s assistant director of investigations, monitoring and enforcement, said: “Our inquiry has uncovered a pattern of concerning behaviour from one trustee who put this charity at risk, demonstrating a disregard for the standards and behaviours expected of them.

“Trustees should honour their responsibility and legal duty to act in the best interests of their charity at all times.

“Although the charity’s other trustees were clearly let down, they failed to intervene effectively as we would have expected.”

FRRME accepted the findings of the report and said it would continue to “promote conflict resolution and provide relief for the poor, needy, sick and aged in the Middle East”.

Chief executive Mike Simpson said staff took swift action on concerns and had made major improvements, adding: “I believe that robust and effective governance enables the charity to move forward with confidence.

“We have a mission to bring hope, help and healing to the Middle East and we are demonstrating our ability to do that through the generosity of our supporters across the world.”

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