Ex-trustee turns on Friends of He­brew U

The Jewish Chronicle - - News - BY SI­MON ROCKER

A DIS­AF­FECTED for­mer trustee of the Bri­tish Friends of the He­brew Univer­sity is call­ing for the Char­ity Com­mis­sion to in­ves­ti­gate its han­dling of mil­lions of pounds worth of donor funds.

Ge­of­frey Sim­monds, who re­signed three years ago amid dis­agree­ments over the way the Friends was run, claims that the char­ity has been de­duct­ing money for man­age­ment costs which should be go­ing di­rectly to the Jerusalem-based univer­sity.

A char­tered ac­coun­tant, Mr Sim­monds has spelt out his con­cerns in a three-page mem­o­ran­dum, which has been passed to the JC.

Wendy Pol­le­coff, BFHU ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, de­fended the char­ity’s con­duct, say­ing that the Char­ity Com­mis­sion had “raised no queries” over the man­age­mentlevy.Sh­e­saidthatMrSim­monds’s as­ser­tions “are in­ac­cu­rate and a mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tion of in­for­ma­tion avail­able” in the char­ity’s ac­counts, in sub­mis­sions to the Char­ity Com­mis­sion, and in an­swers to his lawyers.

Mr Sim­monds is joint ex­ecu­tor of the es­tate of a non-Jewish donor, Mil­lie Carew-Shaw, who died in late 2006, leav­ing around £5 mil­lion to the univer­sity. The money was to go to­wards re­cruit­ing top sci­en­tists, es­pe­cially in med­i­cal re­search.

But he said he had been con­cerned about an item in the char­ity’s ac­counts for the year end­ing Septem­ber 2006. It recorded that the char­ity had taken 20 per cent of the in­come from en­dow­ment funds held in the UK to meet ad­min­is­tra­tion costs.

If that were to be ap­plied to Mrs Carew-Shaw’s legacy, Mr Sim­monds said, it would amount to £60,000 a year. “Any charge on Mil­lie CarewShaw’s [fund] is ab­so­lutely not ap­pro­pri­ate,” he said. “Mil­lie Carew-Shaw never agreed to a man­age­ment charge in Lon­don… If need be, we will go to court to get a rul­ing.”

He says he has no is­sue with fees charge­do­nen­dow­ment­fundsby pro­fes­sional in­vest­ment man­agers or de­duc­tions by the He­brew Univer­sity it­self for ad­min­is­tra­tion in Jerusalem. But he is adamant that the Bri­tish Friends should not be tak­ing a cut of en­dow­ment-fund in­come for its own over­heads if donors had not agreed to it. “Any ad­min­is­tra­tion costs should be cov­ered by gen­eral fundrais­ing,” he said.

Mr Sim­monds has also queried a trans­fer of £234,000 in 2006 from the univer­sity’s re­stricted and en­dow­ment funds to help cover a short­fall on its gen­eral ex­pen­di­ture ac­count.

Three law firms act­ing for var­i­ous donors, and briefed by Mr Sim­monds, have taken up the ques­tion of the man- age­ment charges. But Ms Pol­le­coff, in Jerusalem for the start of this week’s board of gov­er­nors’ meet­ings, said: “The man­age­ment charges have been fully dis­closed to the Char­ity Com­mis­sion, which have raised no queries in re­la­tion to the pro­posed struc­ture, and fol­low a pol­icy sug­gested by lead­ing coun­sel.”

Ac­cord­ing to a let­ter seen by the JC, lawyers for the Friends ex­plained that the 20 per cent charge had been to cover a “sig­nif­i­cant amount of ad­min­is­tra­tive and ac­count­ing ef­fort” spent on the funds.

But a new slid­ing scale of charges would op­er­ate, ef­fec­tive from Oc­to­ber 2006, rang­ing from 1.5 per cent on the first £50,000 of a fund’s cap­i­tal to 0.15 per cent above £1 mil­lion.

Ms Pol­le­coff said that the univer­sity was yet to re­ceive the “full amount of the monies” due from Mrs CarewShaw’s es­tate, but if it came to £5 mil­lion, the an­nual man­age­ment charges would now be £10,050.

She said that of the BFHU’s an­nual over­heads of £600,00 to £700,000, “only ap­prox­i­mately £100,000 was raised in the past from the man­age­ment charge”. Sub­ject to au­dit, the char­ity’s in­come for the year end­ing Septem­ber 2007 was £7.8 mil­lion. She also pointed out that dur­ing his time on the board, Mr Sim­monds had been the “only di­rec­tor to re­quest and re­ceive sig­nif­i­cant com­pen­sa­tion for the ex­penses he in­curred in un­der­tak­ing work on BFHU’s be­half”. She added that the al­le­ga­tions ap­peared timed to co­in­cide with the un­avail­abil­ity of BFHU staff and trustees, cur­rently in Is­rael, to re­spond in any de­tail. Mr Sim­monds de­nied this.

Mr Sim­monds, who re­mains a gov­er­nor of the He­brew Univer­sity, re­sponded: “I used to re­ceive a con­tri­bu­tion for of­fice and sec­re­tar­ial help but I never re­ceived per­sonal re­mu­ner­a­tion.” He added that he had per­son­ally helped to fi­nance four legacy tours he had con­ducted on the Friends’ be­half.

On the ques­tion of the £234,00 trans­fer, Ms Pol­le­coff ex­plained: “The BFHU has a num­ber of en­dow­ment funds that are avail­able for fund­ing the gen­eral ex­penses of the char­ity. Mr Sim­monds was a mem­ber of the ad­min­is­tra­tion com­mit­tee, and was fully aware of this and had ap­proved the ex­pen­di­ture of th­ese funds for the pur­poses of cov­er­ing the over­heads.”

Sheadded:“The£234,000re­latestoan adjustment of amounts in­cor­rectly al­lo­cated in pre­vi­ous years’ ac­counts which were iden­ti­fied fol­low­ing an ac­coun­tant’s re­view of the char­ity that I ini­ti­ated on tak­ing up the post of ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor. This has al­ready been ex­plained to Mr Sim­monds in cor­re­spon­dence.”

But Mr Sim­monds con­tended that noth­ing had been ad­e­quately ex­plained “de­spite sev­eral at­tempts to get an­swers”.

He has pressed the Char­ity Com­mis­sion to re­view the man­age­ment-charge pol­icy. “It is un­ten­able and un­ac­cept­able that the com­mis­sion do not look into it more care­fully,” he main­tained.

A spokesman for the com­mis­sion said this week that “con­cerns” had been raised “re­gard­ing the char­ity’s man­age­ment of its Liv­ing Legacy scheme, and the ap­pli­ca­tion of en­dow­ment funds raised by the char­ity”.

But the spokesman added: “The level of costs as­so­ci­ated with the Liv­ing Legacy agree­ments are a mat­ter for the trustees and any con­cerns should be raised di­rectly with them, as the com­mis­sion is not able to act in the ad­min­is­tra­tion and man­age­ment of a char­ity. We are still con­sid­er­ing con­cerns raised about the con­tent of the Liv­ing Legacy agree­ments.”

PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES

He­brew Univer­sity re­search, funded by Friends’ groups all over the world, has led to some ground­break­ing dis­cov­er­ies. Pic­tured is one of eight new an­i­mal species found in cen­tral Is­rael by univer­sity aca­demics

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