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A former marine’s mission to airlift 162 dogs and cats from Afghanistan as the Taliban took over is being questioned by the Charity Commission.
Pen Farthing made headlines for his public campaign, nicknamed Operation Ark, to evacuate his staff and their families, and the rescue animals in the care of his charity Nowzad.
The charities watchdog has now said that it is looking into how the rescue mission was funded. Operation Ark raised over £200,000 from well-wishers in days.
Nowzad told The BBC that it had acted correctly. They said in a statement: “The trustees are wholly confident that Nowzad’s life-saving work in incredibly difficult circumstances was both the right and only thing to do and was absolutely in furtherance of the charity’s purpose.”
They confirmed that the Charity Commission is asking for their trustees’ comments on Operation Ark including asking how the campaign furthered the charity’s purpose.
“The trustees of course recognise that it is entirely proper for the Commission to gather more information regarding this high-profile and unprecedented operation and are very happy to provide the information requested,” they added.
The Charity Commission has contacted Nowzad for further information after receiving reports around the governance and financial arrangements of Operation Ark.
It will examine whether the use of funds for the evacuation effort was in line with the purpose of the charity.
They 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.”
Mr Farthing’s charity operated an animal clinic, dog and cat shelter and donkey sanctuary in Afghanistan. They chartered a plane to evacuate the animals and staff from Kabul during the UK evacuation but ended up in a war of words with defence secretary Ben Wallace over whether their plane was allowed to land at the airport.
Pen Farthing was eventually evacuated with his animals by plane and his staff managed to escape Afghanistan over the land border to Pakistan.
Edwina Turner, a charities governance lawyer at Anthony Collins solicitors, said the watchdog’s investigation could be a “crisis point” in the life of the charity.
She said: “It’s very serious if the regulator gathers information from you. The charity will want to clear up any concerns.
“One question they [Nowzad] would need an answer to is have they spent money raised in furtherance of their objects? Secondly, have they spent the money in the best way possible to achieve their charitable purposes. Thirdly, has the money raised through Operation Ark been spent in accordance with the terms of the fundraising campaign?”