WILLIE Frazer says he has stepped down as director of victims group FAIR due to investigations – lasting two years – into its finances, the findings of which he is legally prohibited from disclosing.
Mr Frazer said: “Members of FAIR have made it clear they don’t want me to step down but I don’t want them suffering due to our funding having been frozen.
“I am not stepping out of the victims sector and will continue speaking on victims issues.”
He says he is still “gagged” by the Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM). It has directed the cross-border EU funding quango, the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB), not to let Mr Frazer publish the findings of an official report into his group’s finances.
Mr Frazer has been given a copy of the SEUPB findings but was strongly warned in writing that showing it to any third party is “strictly prohibited”.
“They made this report confidential because anyone who reads it would quickly see that we have done nothing wrong,” he claimed. “There is not a penny missing. But none of our answers to their allegations were included in it.”
He also claimed that the report’s suppression is linked to an incident in which two cars of elite anti-terrorism police forced him to stop near Kingsmills last month “in frightening circumstances”. The officers went over his car twice but found nothing.
“I have never been charged with any criminal offence and have a clean record,” Mr Frazer said yesterday.
“But it seems to be a trend that if you speak against the political establishment now you have more chance of getting arrested than if you stood up against terrorism during the Troubles. They know we have evidence that could put senior republicans in jail.”
Police said previously that “nothing untoward was found during the search and the occupant was able to continue with their journey”. They declined to make any further comment yesterday.
Former Ulster Unionist leader Lord Empey said: “I have consistently felt uneasy about these financial investigations into FAIR for quite some time. If there is evidence against Willie or FAIR the departments involved are right to take steps to deal with it. But so far no evidence has been provided.
“OFMDFM and SEUPB have to show why funding has been withdrawn. We are still not in possession of the report from their investigations but we do know the police are not proceeding with any action after their investigation.”
He was not convinced that FAIR’s political views were an adequate reason to pull funding, as has been previously suggested.
“We have been pouring millions into ex-prisoners groups for years so it is a bit late to start standing on that platform now.
“We all know groups on both sides of the community are being funded which have links to paramilitaries and political parties. So any rules about political views of groups getting public funding must be applied evenhandedly.”
Lord Empey added: “At the end of the day no charges have been brought and no evidence has been provided [against FAIR]. So we must assume at this stage that no action against FAIR has been justified.
“The departments must be cautious if there are concerns about irregularities. But eventually they must put up or shut up.”
The News Letter asked OFMDFM, the Community Relations Council (CRC) and SEUPB yesterday what evidence they had found of financial irregularities in FAIR to date and if Mr Frazer was still forbidden from disclosing them.
A spokeswoman for SEUPB replied that Mr Frazer was indeed still forbidden from disclosing the findings in the SEUPB report.
“Following a thorough audit of the tendering and administration procedures used by FAIR, the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB) uncovered major failures in the organisation’s ability to adhere to the conditions associated with its funding allocation,” she said.
“The organisation was given every opportunity to respond to and address the issues uncovered in the audit. Mr Frazer accepted a copy of the audit report under the terms of strict legal privilege. This remains in place.”
A spokesman for the Community Relations Council said yesterday: “It is not appropriate for CRC to discuss with the media the affairs of any of the groups which we support or have supported. This is particularly the case where, as with FAIR, direct discussions with the group are ongoing. All future grant aiding from OFMDFM for victim support work has now been transferred from CRC to the new Victim Support Service to which all inquiries should be directed.”
OFMDFM had not answered the News Letter’s questions at the time of going to press.