A watchdog’s request for information on the financing of a charity’s evacuation of staff and animals from Afghanistan has been described by a volunteer as being part of a political “smear campaign”.
Dominic Dyer, a wildlife campaigner who supported Paul “Pen” Farthing’s charity Nowzad on a voluntary basis, criticised the Charity Commission’s request over reports it had received about the governance and financial arrangements of “Operation Ark”.
The fundraising drive was launched to help charter a flight from the capital Kabul to evacuate staff members and their immediate families, plus the animals in its care, and raised more than £200,000 from supporters in days.
Mr Dyer questioned whether political pressure had prompted the request, which comes after a row between Mr Farthing and the Ministry of Defence.
He said: “Has some of this come from political voices in government, from people within Whitehall? If that’s the case we’d like an explanation.
“Have they manipulated other people to make a complaint so that this goes back into the media?
“I don’t know, but it does not look good. It’s enraging people who donated to the charity.”
He added: “Thousands of people who’ve donated to the charity are really, really angry, because what they see here is an ongoing smear campaign.”
Mr Farthing recently had to apologise after a recording captured him berating Peter Quentin, a special adviser to Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, and accusing the staffer of “blocking” efforts to arrange an evacuation flight.
After apologising for his “incredibly embarrassing language”, Mr Farthing later said he was not worried about “what some politician is saying” about him.
Mr Wallace had complained that some of Mr Farthing’s more militant supporters had “taken up too much time” of senior commanders during the operation.
Mr Farthing, along with over 150 dogs and cats, eventually arrived at London’s Heathrow Airport on a privately funded charter flight at the end of last month.
— NOWZAD (@Nowzad) September 16, 2021
Members of his staff later made it out of Afghanistan to Pakistan.
A Charity Commission spokeswoman said: “Earlier this month we contacted the charity Nowzad for further information in relation to its recent fundraising initiative Operation Ark.
“We will assess the information provided by the trustees to determine whether or not there is a role for the Commission. We cannot comment further at this time.”
The watchdog added it was not a statutory inquiry and no findings have been made at this stage.
Pippa Garland, charities partner at law firm Russell-Cooke, said the Commission will be looking to establish whether the charity’s actions “fell within its objects and were in its best interest”.
She said: “This follows the now fairly well established precedent that where press and political attention goes, the Commission will follow.
“From a charity law perspective, it seems clear that they were, and one hopes that, in the circumstances, the Commission will overlook non-material procedural failures in decision-making. It remains possible that the fundraising regulator could also become involved though.
“Given the success of Nowzad’s evacuation mission, and its passionate supporter base, it is unlikely that the charity will come to regret the actions that it took.
“But Commission inquiries come with potentially serious consequences.”