Three year OSCR probe into sham charity costliest ever

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Scotia Aid founder Dan Houston 

Regulator continues to investigate sham charity 

6th March 2018 by Robert Armour 0 Comments

Ongoing investigations into a scandal-hit charity have become the Scottish regulator's costliest probe yet.

The Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) has spent at least £60,000 investigating Scotia Aid Sierra Leone with the final figure expected to far exceed this.

The probe, now in its third year, was initiated after the charity was discovered to have been taking over properties of struggling businesses rate-free, then taking payments from the companies.

Its 2014 accounts showed 27 different landlords or businesses had paid the charity £867,017. This made up 90% of the charity’s income.

Three former trustees paid themselves a fortune from the proceeds, two of whom were later banned from life from becoming trustees again.

Fraud specialist accountancy firm Aver Chartered Accountants was paid over £39,000 to run Scotia Aid as a temporary factor in 2016. It was later made a permanent move before it was “discharged” as a factor in January.

And £22,000 had been paid in “external” legal fees when OSCR took Scotia Aid trustees Kieran Kelly and Alan Johnston to the Court of Sessions on two occasions in 2016 to get them removed.

The scandal involved the charity sub-letting premises from businesses to claim the 80-100% exemption from rates which apply to buildings used for charitable activities.

But rather than using them, Scotia Aid then left them empty - saving firms with empty warehouses from huge rates bills. In return, the charity would receive a sizeable donation.

Founder Dan Houston escaped any legal action because he quit as a trustee before OSCR launched its probe.

An OSCR spokesman said it would foot court costs "in the public interest where the case justifies it.”