Charity's assets frozen as regulator looks into misconduct claims

An embattled charity at the centre of allegations it gives only a fraction of its income to those in need has had its assets frozen by Scotland's charity watchdog.

Dan Houston, chairman of Scotia Aid Sierra Leone, which has been accused of paying 13p to good causes out of every £1 it raises
Dan Houston, chairman of Scotia Aid Sierra Leone, which has been accused of paying 13p to good causes out of every £1 it raises

Scotia Aid Sierra Leone was set up in 2010 with the aim of helping impoverished children in the war-torn West African country.

But the Lanarkshire charity, chaired by Dan Houston, is facing an investigation into a controversial business rates loophole it may have been using to raise funds.

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It has been claimed the Uddingston-based organisation pays just 13p to good causes out of every £1 it raises.

It has been alleged that officials were cutting deals to take on empty and expensive warehouses in return for sizeable donations.

Now, the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator has won a court order barring Scotia Aid from selling, leasing or otherwise disposing of any of its property. After petitioning the Court of Session, the regulator has also succeeded in having the charity’s trustees suspended and freezing the charity’s bank account.

An interim report has alleged “misconduct” by Scotia Aid bosses and also raised further fears over payments made to senior management at the organisation.

It said: “Our initial inquiries gave us concerns about the activities and financial management of the charity.

“It appeared that the trustees were not acting in the interests of the charity and with the care and diligence that it is reasonable to expect of a person who is managing the affairs of another person, which is a legal duty of a charity trustee.”

The report, published on Tuesday, added: “While our inquiries are still ongoing, on the basis of the information we have gathered so far, we are concerned that there is misconduct in the administration of the charity, and it is necessary for us to take action to protect its assets.”

Laura Anderson, OSCR’s head of enforcement, said: “Our experience is that charities in Scotland are generally well run, and we remain committed to supporting and encouraging those running them to meet their legal duties.

“But this case shows that where we identify sufficient cause for concern, we will take action – including court action – to ensure that the public’s confidence in charities and their work is maintained.”

Emma Porter of Aver Chartered Accountants has been appointed interim judicial factor of the charity while investigations continue.

No-one from Scotia Aid Sierra Leone was available for comment.