Tuesday, September 1, 2015

UK watchdog reviews landmine charity amid Angelina Jolie dispute

By Aldo Cetrullo

LONDON, Sept 2 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Britain's charity watchdog is reviewing a complaint about trustees' pay at a global mine-clearing charity made famous by Princess Diana following reports on Wednesday that Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie quit its board over the payments.

The Halo Trust said the chairman of its board, Amanda Pullinger, and executive trustee Simon Conway received a total of about 120,000 pounds ($180,000) for reviewing the charity's structure and governance between May and October 2014.

Jolie quit her position at the Halo Trust in May last year, 18 months after joining, and an insider told the Times newspaper on Wednesday that she stepped down because she was "uncomfortable" with these payments approved by the charity.

A spokeswoman for the Halo Trust, which received a 9 million pound five-year grant from the UK government in 2013, on Wednesday played down reports that Jolie's departure was linked to the payments, which the trust deemed "entirely appropriate".

"If Ms Jolie's departure had anything to do with the amount [the two trustees] were being paid, it was not communicated to us at the time," the spokeswoman told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"Ms Jolie remains very supportive of the Halo Trust."

She added that the actress, a renowned human rights campaigner and a United Nations special envoy for refugees, had left the organisation on amicable terms, citing "a wish to do other things".

A representative for Jolie said the actress stepped down from the HALO Board in May last year "because of concerns she had relating to the way the Trust was run".

"She remains supportive of the work of HALO staff in the field, and believes strongly in the vision of a world free of landmines," the spokeswoman said in an emailed statement.


A spokesman for the state-run Charity Commission, that registers and regulates charities in Britain, said it had received a complaint about the Halo Trust payments to Pullinger and Conway and other issues but found "there was no regulatory action it could take".

However it was now reviewing that decision after receiving a new request.
"The complainant has requested a review of our decisions in this case and this is now under way," the spokesman said.

The Halo Trust rose to prominence in 1997 when Princess Diana accompanied mine clearance staff to an Angolan minefield. She died later that year in a car crash in Paris.

Britain's Prince Harry, the younger son of the princess, was also once a patron of the charity.

This is not the first time that spending at Halo has come under scrutiny.
In July 2014 the charity suspended its chief executive, Guy Willoughby, citing a "serious deterioration in relations" between him and the board.

Several months earlier it had emerged that his remuneration package of up to 220,000 pounds included private school fees for three of his children.
Willoughby, who co-founded the charity in 1988, later resigned.

Halo CEO James Cowan said on Wednesday that the charity had gone through substantial upheaval since Willoughby's departure and that the governance review was a vital part of this.

"As a charity we are always mindful of the need to spend the money that we receive wisely and this is what governs the decisions of our board," Cowan said in a statement.

"We are confident that the decisions taken to improve the governance of the organisation during the course of the last year were the right ones and worth every penny." 

(Reporting By Aldo Cetrullo, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith and Tom Esslemont; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, corruption and climate change. Visit www.trust.org)

The Hollywood actress was said to be “extremely uncomfortable” that two trustees had paid themselves more than £120,000 for a “review”

Jolie quit as a trustee in May last year after tens of thousands of pounds were spent on a review of the charity’s “structural, remuneration and governance arrangements”.

It is understood the star, one of the world’s most famous humanitarian campaigners, told trustees they should pay for the review themselves rather than using charity funds.
She was also unhappy the Halo Trust helped pay the boarding school fees of some staff’s children.
An insider told The Times: “She left because she was extremely uncomfortable with the actions of the trustees.

“The main thing was the trustees paying themselves. What she said was, ‘If those trustees want to do a review, pay for it yourselves’.”
The trust receives millions of pounds a year from governments and the UN, including £5.7 million in 2014-15 from the UK’s Department for International Development.

Jolie had raised objections about plans to pay Amanda Pullinger, the chairwoman of trustees and a former hedgefund chief, and Simon Conway, an author, a combined £850 a day for the review.
James Cowan, the trust’s chief executive, said that the actress had joined in a unanimous vote in favour of the governance review and said her resignation letter cited “a wish to do other things”.

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