Lawyers: Charity committed no crime

The charitable organisation received a call from someone who wanted to sponsor a food drive for the needy.

As the donor initially wanted to remain anonymous, Mr Nizar Mohamed Shariff, founder of Free Food For All (FFFA), accepted the donation, and distributed 100 bags of food and necessities worth $5,460 to residents at Block 811, French Road, on Jan 21.

As it turned out, the donor, Mr Francis Lee, 40, is an unlicensed moneylender.

One of the volunteers from FFFA had searched online for Mr Lee's company's name, GT Credit, when he asked for the name to appear on T-shirts worn by volunteers at the event.

But a licensed moneylender that also goes by the name of GT Credit popped up during the search. And so Mr Nizar went ahead with the event.

The New Paper received a tip-off about the charity drive by a reader who had spotted the volunteers wearing the T-shirts.

When contacted, Mr Lee told TNP that his moneylending operation is not licensed.

Mr Nizar said he did not know this.

He said: "I was not aware that the sponsorship was from an unlicensed moneylender. It was our third collaboration with external companies and we are fairly new."

FFFA was founded in November 2014 and registered in February 2015.

When contacted, Mr Lee told TNP: "Chinese New Year was coming and I wanted to give back to society.

"I approached two or three charitable organisations but all of them ignored me."

He added that he had spent his childhood in the area and wanted to give a helping hand to the residents there.

When TNP visited GT Credit, the licensed moneylender, at its Toa Payoh office, an employee said they are aware of Mr Lee's company.

Volunteers from Free Food For All distributed 100 bags of food and necessities worth $5,460 to residents at Block 811, French Road.Photo: Facebook/GTcredit

Lawyers TNP spoke to said FFFA did not do anything wrong by accepting the sponsorship, as they did not know it came from an unlicensed operation.

"There would not be any consequences if the charitable organisation did not know their donor was an unlicensed moneylender," said Mr Foo Cheow Ming, a lawyer with Templars Law.

"If the charitable organisation knowingly accepted money from an unlicensed moneylender, then they will be investigated and the money that has been (involved in) crime will be confiscated."

'NO OFFENCE'

Mr Ravinderpal Singh, a lawyer with Kalco Law who is also a board member of several charitable organisations like The New Charis Mission, said: "There is nothing illegal. There is no offence. The food drive is not related to moneylending and they did not do it to promote their moneylending activities.

"It will be difficult to try to make it a criminal offence, especially if the event organiser did not know. It is not like they are banks or financial institutions that have to do their due diligence checks."

But Charity Council chairman Gerard Ee said charitable organisations should do due diligence and conduct background checks on donors or sponsors.

He said: "If the charitable organisations do not have a robust due diligence process, then they will be subject to criticism.

"If they have done their best and could not uncover anything, they should not be faulted."

Mr Ee added: "Even though they may be unlicensed and their business is not legal, it does not mean the people in the company do not have good hearts.

"If you do know about the organisation's background then this becomes a judgement call. Some will take a moral stance...

"Every organisation has to decide the values they want to uphold."

When asked if he thinks accepting the sponsorship from Mr Lee's business was a mistake, Mr Nizar said no.

"At the end of the day, it is still an act of doing good. We should not judge one's background because he is doing a good deed.

"I felt that Mr Lee was sincere and not doing it for public attention," said Mr Nizar.

He said he will be imposing stricter protocols when working with companies in future.

myklim@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Feb 3, 2017.
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