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UK watchdog reviews landmine charity after Jolie quits

2015-09-04 13:58

London - Britain's charity watchdog is reviewing a complaint about trustees' pay at a global mine-clearing charity made famous by Princess Diana, following reports on Wednesday that Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie quit its board over the payments.

The Halo Trust said the chairperson of its board, Amanda Pullinger, and executive trustee Simon Conway received a total of about £120 000 pounds ($180 000) for reviewing the charity's structure and governance between May and October 2014.

Jolie quit her position at the Halo Trust in May last year, 18 months after joining, and an insider told the Times newspaper on Wednesday that she stepped down because she was "uncomfortable" with these payments approved by the charity.

A spokesperson for the Halo Trust on Wednesday played down reports that Jolie's departure was linked to the payments, which the charity had deemed "entirely appropriate".

"If Ms Jolie's departure had anything to do with the amount [the two trustees] were being paid, it was not communicated to us at the time," the spokesperson told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"Ms Jolie remains very supportive of the Halo Trust."

She added that the actress, a renowned human rights campaigner and a United Nations special envoy for refugees, had left the organisation on amicable terms, citing "a wish to do other things".

Representatives for Jolie did not respond to emails and phone calls seeking comment.

The Halo Trust received a £9m five-year grant from the UK government in 2013.

A spokesperson for the state-run Charity Commission, that registers and regulates charities in Britain, said it had received a complaint about the Halo Trust payments to Pullinger and Conway and other issues but found "there was no regulatory action it could take".

However, it was now reviewing that decision after receiving a new request.

"The complainant has requested a review of our decisions in this case and this is now under way," the spokesperson said.

The Halo Trust rose to prominence in 1997 when Princess Diana accompanied mine clearance staff to an Angolan minefield.

Britain's Prince Harry, the younger son of Diana who was killed in a car crash in 1997, was also once a patron of the charity.

This is not the first time that spending at Halo has come under scrutiny.

In July 2014 the charity suspended its chief executive, Guy Willoughby, citing a "serious deterioration in relations" between him and the board.

Several months earlier it had emerged that his remuneration package of up to £220 000 included private school fees for three of his children.

Willoughby, who co-founded the charity in 1988, later resigned.

Halo CEO James Cowan said on Wednesday that the charity had gone through substantial upheaval since Willoughby's departure and that the governance review was a vital part of this.

"As a charity we are always mindful of the need to spend the money that we receive wisely and this is what governs the decisions of our board," Cowan said in a statement.

"We are confident that the decisions taken to improve the governance of the organisation during the course of the last year were the right ones and worth every penny."

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