The Rev. Canon Andrew White, acclaimed as the Anglican “Vicar of Baghdad” for his outreach among Iraqi Christians, has been suspended with pay and his British charity placed under official investigation over allegations that money used to redeem sex slaves ended up in the hands of the Islamic State.
The U.K.’s official Charity Commission on Thursday (June 23) “confirmed that it opened a statutory inquiry into the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East on June 9, 2016.”
The commission declined to comment further on White’s organization, which also goes by the acronym FRRME.
“The foundation is cooperating fully with the appropriate authorities,” FRRME said on its website. “It would be inappropriate to comment further on an active investigation other than to say that the foundation believes at this stage that the alleged incident stemmed from a genuine desire by Canon White to help others.”
His suspension from the Charity is ecclesiastical discipline and will not affect his preaching and teaching ministry. In response to the allegations, White said “We never gave the bad guys one penny.”
Canon White, the FRRME, and the Charity Commission have all refrained from stating explicitly what the inquiry and suspension relates to; but it is understood to relate to concerns over alleged ransom payments to secure the release of young girls held as sex-slaves by Daesh. If any such payment had been made to Daesh, it would be unlawful in English law.
In a statement, the trustees of FRRME confirmed that Canon White had been suspended with pay pending the outcome of the Charity Commission inquiry. “It would be inappropriate to comment further on an active investigation other than to say that the Foundation believe at this stage that the alleged incident stemmed from a genuine desire by Canon White to help others,” they said, as they confirmed that they were “cooperating fully” with the authorities.
The Times reported Canon White, who is currently in Amman, Jordan, has written on Facebook that he had been suspended in relation to “some inaccurate statements I made about our work with and funding for the former slave girls taken by ISIS”.
Addressing some allegations, he added: “What is clear is that at no time did we pay money to any terrorists.”
White is well known for staying with his congregation, St. George’s Church in Baghdad, the only Anglican parish in Iraq, for more than a decade enduring the brutal war that resulted from the 2003 U.S. invasion. He welcomed many refugees fleeing both that conflict and, more recently, the conflict and brutal treatment of civilians by ISIS.