In Depth

George Galloway’s Palestine charity scandal explained

Inquiry finds ‘little if any evidence’ that Viva Palestina delivered aid despite taking £1m in donations

The Palestinian aid charity founded by former MP George Galloway may not have conducted any charitable activity or distributed any humanitarian aid, according to a highly critical report from the sector regulator.

The Charity Commission found that trustees of Viva Palestina (VP) had failed to be publicly accountable and could not prove they had met their legal responsibilities for ensuring charitable funds were properly used and protected.

The charity was established in early 2009 and claimed that February to have raised more than £1m already. In a statement on the VP website, Galloway – then MP for Bethnal Green and Bow in London – said that he was launching a “major initiative in response to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza”, The Guardian reports. 

A humanitarian convoy organised by the charity arrived in Gaza the following month, says HuffPost. However, the commission report found that “in terms of activities, it was difficult for the inquiry to establish with any certainty whether any charitable activity had taken place, as it found little if any evidence that humanitarian aid was distributed to those in need in accordance with the charity’s objects”.

And a separate investigation by the Charity Commission found that VP actually raised only £180,000 in donations in the first three months after the initiative was founded.

The watchdog began looking into VP after forcing the trustees to register as a charity and imposing an action plan.

Another inquiry was launched in 2013 “after trustees ignored the plan and failed in their statutory duty to submit annual returns and accounts for the previous three financial years”, HuffPost reports.

In 2014, the commission appointed an interim manager to take charge of the charity and froze its accounts, says Third Sector magazine.

Meanwhile, the investigation found that in addition to the lack of evidence of charitable activities, one unnamed former trustee had received payments from the charity, and mobile phones and radios had been purchased with VP funds at “significant expenditure”, the charity news mag reports.

Bank statements showed that the charity had spent £33,274 on mobile phone contracts in three years.

VP ceased to exist in 2016 and was duly removed from the commission’s register in September that year, the regulator’s website shows.

Michelle Russell, director of investigations at the Charity Commission, told Third Sector that Galloway’s initiative was  “a wholly inadequately managed charity”.

But Ron McKay - described by The Guardian as Galloway’s “sometime spokesman” - insists VP was a campaign and not a charity, and criticised the commission’s “kangaroo judgement”.

“It’s taken the Charity Commission getting on for a decade to come up with this nonsense. A quick viewing of YouTube would have shot this down. Viva Palestina took hundreds of vans, cars, lorries, ambulances, you name it, to Gaza and they were not empty, I can vouchsafe,” he said.

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