Former Mayor of Kensington & Chelsea, the councillor Gerard Hargreaves, has been questioned by the Charity Commission as part of its probe into apparent corruption at al-Manaar Muslim Cultural Heritage Centre in North Kensington. Councillor Hargreaves, who represents Chelsea Riverside ward, is accused of proposing that a long-standing debt of thousands of pounds owed to al-Manaar by a fellow trustee be written off. And Hargreaves is understood to be among a faction of trustees suspected of trying to force through the removal of the mosque’s CEO.
We have seen the 15 questions sent by the Charity Commission to al-Manaar’s nine trustees, which reveal why the government department consider the concerns raised to be serious enough to meet the threshold for investigation. The alleged abuses at the mosque have dogged the charity for years and are suggestive of abject mismanagement and a culture of bullying.
With the Charity Commission involved, it seems unlikely that all the mosque’s trustees will survive in their positions unless they can offer evidence that they are taking steps to ensure the centre’s governance is fully transparent and compliant with Charity Commission guidelines. The circumstances could be serious enough for the Charity Commission to utilise sweeping powers to impose new systems and personnel on al-Manaar to help it move on from its internal strife and focus on its role as an integral and much-respected community hub and place of healing.
A source told Urban Dandy that much of the unrest at the mosque has been directly or indirectly connected to Dr Abdulkarim Khalil, a mainstay at al-Manaar from its foundation, when he led fundraising efforts. He has been al-Manaar’s CEO, Chair of Trustees (twice) and remains a trustee.
The debt that Councillor Hargreaves allegedly suggested be written off was rent arrears owed by Dr Khalil for use of al-Manaar’s two-bedroom flat. Trustees had set the rent at the local social housing rate of just under £9,000 a year in 2012.
With NATO having overthrown the government of Libya, Dr Khalil travelled to Tripoli in 2012 to work at what had been the Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation, essentially the Libyan state charity. This was salaried work, but al Manaar’s trustees apparently viewed it as a sabbatical and for six months kept Dr Khalil in receipt of his mosque salary.
It was during his period of working in Libya that Dr Khalil incurred his debt for non-payment of rent to the charity. Year after year, the figure was questioned as accountants prepared the charity’s annual accounts, until 2018 when trustees decided to write of the debt.
Minutes for the January 6th 2018 trustees meeting sent to Urban Dandy include two matters discussed without Dr Khalil, Chair of Trustees at the time, in the room. One was a request from Dr Khalil that al-Manaar contribute to his travel costs for flights to and from Libya. This request was deemed “inappropriate” by trustees as Dr Khalil was not travelling on al-Manaar business.
However, the second matter produced a better outcome for Dr Khalil as the trustees wrote off £8923 of rent arrears accrued between 2012 and 2015. The decision is justified in the minutes by “uncertainties that surrounded the unfolding situation in his home country (Libya) at the time;” that “while in the flat he attended to Muslim Cultural Heritage Centre matters on a daily basis” and the flat had been “long empty following the departure of the Care Taker.”
The minutes do not suggest that comments were made on the legality of the decision or its impact on other areas of al-Manaar’s work.
A source told us that it was Councillor Hargreaves who proposed writing off the debt, and that at the time, only months after the Grenfell tower fire, there was so much going on at al-Manaar that it was quite easy for such a decision to be taken without scrutiny.
The Charity Commission’s questions to the trustees, issued early this year, include the following:
“Why did you write off £9000? How did that serve the best interests of the charity?”
And the Charity Commission instructs the trustees to:
“Comment upon the Annual Accounts AC 18 and the reference to a party disclosure for £8923 to a trustee Dr Khalil which was written off.”
Another matter related to Dr Khalil that the Charity Commission questioned the trustees about was any relationship between trustees and Zubaidah Trust, a charity founded by Dr Khalil with virtually nothing to show in successive annual account submissions. “Trustees to comment if the charity has any relationship with Zubaidah Trust.”
The relevance of this Trust is not clear.
It was during the period of Dr Khalil’s work in Libya that al-Manaar appointed Abdurahman Sayed as CEO. Kensington & Chelsea Social Council oversaw the recruitment process, which, it is claimed by our source, took decision-making power away from those who had previously been able to steer the charity in directions of their choosing. As a result of Sayed’s appointment, various disgruntled staff and board members sought to make the CEO’s life uncomfortable and, early this year, managed to oust him from his role, albeit temporarily.
According to our source, five trustees, including Councillor Hargreaves, took it upon themselves to suspend Abdurahman Sayed, without consulting the other four trustees or calling a trustees’ meeting, on 13th January. They had been apparently angered by the CEO’s firing of an Imam who Sayed claimed was receiving a full-time salary for working part-time.
Two trustees allegedly told al-Manaar staff “You are not allowed to communicate with Abdurahman” and a supporter of this faction addressed the congregation at the mosque, urging them to turn against the CEO. He was apparently ejected by people who had gone there to worship.
The other faction of the trustees, none of whom were in place at the time of the decision to write-off Dr Khalil’s arrears, urged the CEO to return to work and somebody reported events to the Charity Commission.
Our source told us that Councillor Hargreaves “does not behave like a trustee, he is completely untransparent.” They accuse Hargreaves of not following any procedures, including complaints procedures, and of participating in a culture in which disputes are treated as personal rather than professional issues.
Adding to this impression, our source told us that Hargreaves complained to council leader Elizabeth Campbell about the presence of a Labour councillor, nominated by the local authority, on the board of trustees.
We contacted Councillor Hargreaves requesting a comment on the allegations made against him and on the more general situation at al-Manaar, but he had not replied at the time of writing.
In their letter to al-Manaar’s trustees, the Charity Commission asked:
“Who voted to get rid of the CEO?”
And instructed them to confirm:
“Which trustees voted for the suspension of the CEO and which voted against.”
The deadline for the trustees to respond was in late February, by which point Abdurahman Sayed had returned to work, his suspension having being shown to carry no legal weight.
Three trustees remain from the time of the apparent financial corruption in 2018. These are Esmail Jasat, who was Treasurer at the time and is now Chair; Dr Abdulkarim Khalil, the beneficiary of the decision, who was then Chair and remains a trustee; and Councillor Gerard Hargreaves, who was part of the council’s Cabinet at the time of the Grenfell Tower fire. The former Mayor remains a trustee at al Manaar and is Chairman of Kensington & Chelsea Council Council’s Audit and Transparency Committee.
By Tom Charles