Police investigation possible over charity cash concerns

Charity Commission for Northern Ireland
Charity Commission for Northern Ireland

The alleged “misappropriation” of millions of pounds of a charity’s assets could become the subject of a police investigation, the Charity Commission (CCNI) has confirmed.

Yesterday CCNI said it is being demanded that a Co Down businessman pay back £12 million it claimed was misappropriated from the Victoria Housing Estates (VHE) charity.

An interim report published by the commission states that VHE provided loans to companies in which former solicitor Derek Tughan had an interest.

Money from the charity was said to have been used to pay for a chauffeur for Mr Tughan, and loans of more than £100,000 were made available to a relative, the watchdog said.

The charity – which is responsible for more that 400 tenant-occupied houses – has joined CCNI in pursuing a legal action to recover the £12m they claim has been removed from its coffers.

Last night a CCNI spokeswoman said: “The commission’s inquiry into VHE is ongoing and, as part of that work, all options will be considered in full, including the potential to refer the matter to the PSNI.”

In its interim report, CCNI said VHE has been left financially vulnerable, and facing a tax bill of almost £3m. The charity, which is under new management, has also estimated the cost of bringing hundreds of houses back up to standard at more than £21m.

In its report, CCNI states: “For a number of years, two of Mr Tughan’s relatives received monthly salary payments from VHE, totalling over £3,000 gross per month, but there was no known service evidenced as provided for these salaries.”

It also found that London properties were “used exclusively by Mr Tughan and his family” with “no evidence how these properties furthered the charity’s purposes in any way”.

When spoken to previously by the BBC, Mr Tughan said he had done nothing wrong, and that the action taken by the Charity Commission meant he had lost control of a property empire estimated to be worth around £15m.

Myles McKeown, of CCNI said: “This inquiry has been one of our largest to date. Ongoing court processes, alongside the volume of the misappropriation of charity assets, meant this inquiry has been particularly complex and protracted.

“Despite this, we have remained determined in our approach and the inquiry is a good example of where the commission has identified a major risk to a charity’s assets and taken the appropriate action to investigate and resolve matters.”

Mr McKeown added: “The VHE case is not closed and the commission acknowledges that the charity has suffered significant losses due to the previous management.

“However, we can assure the public, and the charity’s beneficiaries that we, and the charity’s current board, are working to recover funds and ensure any remaining assets are used to fulfil the charity’s purposes.”

The News Letter has not been able to contact Mr Tughan for comment.