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'Vicar of Baghdad' defends actions after charity watchdog misconduct ruling

by Press Association

A clergyman known as the Vicar of Baghdad has defended his actions after the charity watchdog found he committed serious misconduct following a probe into claims he intended to pay so-called Islamic State (IS) to release sex slaves.

Canon Andrew White said his work at a missionary charity was "highly appropriate for a religious leader living in a war zone", after a Charity Commission report concluded he was likely to have caused "significant damage" to the charity's reputation.

Trustees at the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East (FRRME) reported to the Charity Commission in February 2016 that Canon White had ignored instructions not to associate himself with a "foreign organisation" that rescued women and children captured by IS.

Later that year, on 9th June, the trustees again reported Canon White to the watchdog, saying they feared he intended to send 17,500 US dollars (£13,400) to the terror group.

They suspected Canon White, a fellow trustee and senior charity employee at the time, intended to use donations raised from two institutions in the US at a fundraising event for the charity's sister organisation, FRRME US, but paid directly to him.

But Canon White denied he ever intended to send any money to IS, and said his support of the group which rehoused and rescued captured women and children was non-monetary and appropriate.

He told the PA news agency: "I wonder how those accusing me would have dealt with such daily bloodshed and torture, working in a country with so little infrastructure."

Canon White added no money had been misused and was paid back in full.

A report by the commission, which was published on Friday and refers to Canon White only as Trustee A, said: "The commission had serious regulatory concerns in respect of Trustee A's role and conduct within the charity, and considered that there was evidence to suggest that they used their position within the charity to solicit donations to fund the payment, in a personal capacity, of the release of hostages from IS, a proscribed terrorist organisation."

The watchdog said it had seen no evidence the payment to IS, also known as Isis, was made and Canon White was told no further action would be taken against him after he was interviewed under caution during an investigation by the Metropolitan Police.

But it said it had considered evidence in the form of emails from Canon White that "indicate Trustee A's intent to pay funds - either directly or indirectly - to IS".

In one of a series of emails, sent on June 6 2016, Canon White suggested the donations he collected in the US were "used specifically for the issue of buying back the women who has been taken as sex slaves by Isis" and that the money could not go through the charity.

In an undated letter, he told the trustees: "I have been told specifically that no money given to deal with the sex slaves could go through the (charity), so I dealt with the issue myself."

His actions were likely to have caused "significant damage" to the charity's reputation and income, the report concluded.

Canon White, who first trained as a doctor before becoming ordained, told PA that he had only supplied beds and clothes to the foreign organisation.

He said: "I transferred no money to Islamic State... We gave no money to any terrorist organisation and would never do that."

He added: "We gave no money, it was literally just food and clothes. It was as simple as that."

The commission noted that some of Canon White's behaviour may have been related to his ill health.

Canon White told PA: "It all came about from an email I wrote on a day when I had had very serious treatment in the Middle East, I had a stem cell transplant that day and I don't think anything I said was very logical."

The vicar said he was involved in hostage negotiation during his time in the Middle East, where he was the chaplain to the US embassy in Baghdad and also the vicar of an Anglican church.

He said: "I've been involved in hostage negotiation for years. I've been involved in about 170 hostage cases and I've got 56 people back alive, so yes I've done it, and it's worked."

The watchdog also found 95 per cent of the £38,521 expenses on his charity credit card was not supported by evidence.

Canon White told PA: "In our earlier days, the person we had working for us never provided us receipts, and eventually we dismissed him because it wasn't good enough to say you can't get receipts because you're in the middle of a war zone.

"It is very difficult getting receipts in a war zone, but we have radically changed and we did learn a big lesson. We never paid any money to dangerous bodies or organisations."

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