CHARITY AT WAR OVER ‘LOST’ CASH
Kenya aid group supported by Liz O’Donnell and Chris de Burgh locked in bitter internal legal battle Auditors ‘found financial concerns’ amongst accounts of Irish charity
By: Michael O’Farrell, Barbara Jones Irish Mail On Sunday(C) March 7, 2010
A RENOWNED Irish charity has refunded its Government aid grant and begun steps to shut down completely amid a bitter legal dispute between its Irish and Kenyan arms over donations. The globally well known and respected ICROSS – the International Community for the Relief of Starvation – has been supported by a wide range of celebrities and politicians, including Senator David Norris and former development minister Liz O’Donnell. It has been supported at fundraisers adorned by stars such as Andrea Corr, Chris de Burgh and Victoria Smurfit.
But at the request of the Department of Foreign Affairs, ICROSS has repaid €97,000 in grants provided by Irish Aid, the Government’s development aid section – and the charity has sought advice from the Commissioners of Charitable Donations about its future.
The one remaining individual on the Irish board has frozen all accounts – resulting in a threatened legal action by the Kenyan board, which wants all funds released. ICROSS in Kenya is a separate legal entity that is, however, largely funded by the Irish arm.
The Irish board claims it took the action after a recent forensic audit by Ernst & Young found a number of significant areas of concern.
They echo similar concerns that Irish Aid also uncovered in its review and audit of the ICROSS operation in Kenya .
Headed by Michael Meegan – a charismatic Irishman who has lived and worked in Africa for more than three decades – ICROSS runs a number of humanitarian and HIV projects in various parts of Kenya.
Following the Ernst & Young audit, the Irish board moved immediately to ensure its bank account was secure by removing the existing bank signatories and replacing them with a senior Kenyan consultant to the World Bank, and other independent officials. However, a legal representative for ICROSS Kenya said the charity continued to operate and receive funds from elsewhere and was of the view that it was entitled to the money in the Irish account.
‘It’s not correct to say the charity is being wound down. It would be more accurate to say certain directors have resigned from the charity and the Irish branch of the charity is currently running with one director, which is illegal,’ he said.
The representative said ICROSS Kenya had written to the Revenue to ask that the charity registration for ICROSS Ireland be revoked. ICROSS Kenya is also applying to the High Court to view the register of members of ICROSS Ireland in order to call an emergency general meeting.
Financial affairs at ICROSS in Kenya have already been the focus of controversy for several years now as other governments and charitable organisations moved to withdraw funding.
In recent years, the Elton John Foundation and US Aid have distanced themselves completely from the charity citing, concerns about accountability.
Relevant Kenyan authorities, including the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Health, have been briefed by the Irish and Kenyan arms of the charity.
The one remaining director of the Irish board has contacted the Commissioners of Charitable Donations and Bequests to agree a process to handle remaining donations held on account in Ireland.
It is understood that over €200,000, donated largely by the Irish public, remains in the Irish account. But last night, ICROSS Kenya said it was its understanding that at least €500,000 should remain in the Irish account.
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