Scotland’s charity regulator had to ask for help to try to establish if a disgraced aid agency ever did the overseas work it claimed, documents reveal.
The Office of the Scottish Charity Regular (OSCR) contacted the UK’s Charity Commission to ask for advice on how to check which foreign projects Lanarkshire-based Scotia Aid Sierra Leone had completed.
Last night a senior MSP said the correspondence raised questions over OSCR’s probe.
Its on-going investigation into Scotia Aid Sierra Leone is the longest in the history of the regulator.
The Sunday Post revealed how the charity, which has been shut down, used its charitable status to exploit a business rates loophole while paying its bosses a fortune.
Correspondence reveals how OSCR’s probe into Scotia Aid dates back to 2012 – just two years after the charity was formed by Dan Houston, Kieran Kelly and Alan Johnston.
The charity invited landlords to sign over empty properties in order to reduce their business rates. Scotia Aid received a donation from the landlord in return.
“This looks like it was a money-making scam from the start,” said David Craig, author of the Great Charity Scandal. “It also shows the OSCR lacks both the ability and the will to properly police Scotland’s 24,000 charities.”
OSCR’s head of enforcement, Laura Anderson, wrote to the Charity Commission in 2015 seeking help on finding experts in Sierra Leone.
Ms Anderson wrote: “I know of course that the Commission have a great deal of experience in looking at charities working internationally and unfortunately we at OSCR do not at the moment, although I have a feeling that may all change.
“We are trying to establish if the charity we are looking at is actually carrying out any of the activities in Sierra Leone that it claims to be – for example, building a hospital – and also whether the trustees are indeed visiting Sierra Leone as much as they claim to be in their accounts.
“The charity also claims to have shipped containers of aid to Sierra Leone and again it would be helpful for us to establish whether or not that is true.”
Liam Kerr, Scottish Conservative shadow justice secretary, said: “It seems that OSCR has some questions to answer with regards to this specific investigation.
“OSCR must have the ability to investigate quickly and effectively.”
A spokesperson for OSCR said: “In our inquiries we work closely with other bodies, such as Police Scotland and the Charity Commission for England and Wales, when it is appropriate to do so. The inquiry is still ongoing and it would not be appropriate to comment any further.
OSCR is now focussing more on charities “likely to pose the highest risk to public trust and confidence.”
None of Scotia Aid’s former bosses could be contacted for a comment.