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Metropolitan Police investigating Dartford charity on suspicion of paying hostage ransom to ISIS

By Sean McPolin

A charity is being investigated by terrorism police on suspicion of paying ransom money to ISIS.

The Metropolitan Police are probing whether or not The Assyrian Church of the East Relief Organisation (ACERO) sent money to Syria in 2016 to free hostages.

Chairman of the charity in Kennet Road, Dartford, Mar Afram Athneil, was praised three years ago for helping to free 226 hostages held by ISIS, which took more than a year.

Mar Afram Athneil, the bishop of Syria, is also the chairman of the charity. Picture: Assyrian Church of the East Relief Organization (13814575)
Mar Afram Athneil, the bishop of Syria, is also the chairman of the charity. Picture: Assyrian Church of the East Relief Organization (13814575)

Now, ACERO is being investigated by officers from the National Terrorist Financial Investigation Unit (NTFIU) after their accounts, ending in 2016, showed a payment of £147,689 for an expenditure marked "Iraq Hostages".

A Met Police spokesman said: "In January 2018, the Met received a referral from the Charities Commission over concerns relating to alleged payments to Syria by the Assyrian Church of the East Relief Organisation (ACERO).

The charity is run by Andy Darmoo, who owns a lighting business in Dartford, but is chaired by the Bishop of Syria, Mar Afram Athneil.

"What happened in this situation is between me and my God." - Bishop Mar Afram Athneil

"This matter is being investigated by officers from the NTFIU, which is part of the Met’s Counter Terrorism Command, to determine if terrorist financing offences have been committed.

"On August 16 last year, officers from the NTFIU executed search warrants at a residential address and business address in the Dartford area.

"On the same day, a 71-year-old man was interviewed under caution."

The charity is based in Kennet Road, Dartford. Picture: Google Maps (13814572)
The charity is based in Kennet Road, Dartford. Picture: Google Maps (13814572)

Bishop Athneil distanced the Dartford charity from the the hostage rescue in 2016.

“As a bishop in the Assyrian Church, my responsibility was to look after my flock in my country during a troubled period. This had nothing to do with Acero UK or Mr Andy Darmoo," he said in a letter to The Sunday Times this week.

"What happened in this situation is between me and my God.”

It was later claimed that the £147,000 was sent to Iraq as humanitarian relief and that the reference in the 2016 accounts was a mistake.

The investigation is ongoing.

A spokesman from the Charity Comission said: “We can confirm that we are examining serious concerns about the governance of Assyrian Church of the East Relief Organization (ACERO UK), and its activities overseas.

"That case is ongoing, as is a police investigation related to the charity. In order not to prejudice either investigation, we cannot comment further at this time.

"Being a charity carries special status in our society, and is associated with important responsibilities, including around the management of resources, transparency and accountability, and sound governance. All trustees of all charities have a responsibility for meeting these responsibilities.”

Attempts to contact the church have been made.

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