UK: THE Charity Commission has asked leaders of a Sikh temple to explain their decision to purchase a house valued at £425,000.
The Commission contacted Siri Guru Singh Sabha Croydon, in St James’s Road, after it received a complaint alleging trustees failed to seek the permission of the charity’s general body before agreeing to purchase the property.
It has written to the committee to “remind” them that such a decision would be against its constitution and is waiting for a response before deciding whether to begin a full investigation.
Harvinder Singh, general secretary of the gurdwara, said the purchase was approved during a recent AGM, a claim a group of worshippers deny.
They believe the committee plans to buy the three-bedroom house in Tavistock Road, which had been on the market for £425,000, before pulling it down and replacing it, in part, with a car park.
Mr Singh said the temple needed to expand to meet the borough’s growing Sikh community.
The Commission’s intervention is the latest development in a bitter row between two rival factions at the gurdwara, previously known as the Nanak Community Centre.
It has also emerged that Coulsdon West councillor Jeet Bains, reported to the police during incident at an evening prayer session in August, has now stepped down as the charity’s chairman. He denies any wrongdoing.
Police were again called to the AGM on October 18, at which the purchase of the property was the main item on the agenda.
Trustees had warned members they faced being barred entry if they caused a disturbance, sent “malicious communications” or incited disharmony.
When the congregation arrived at the AGM a number of people were kept outside. A disturbance ensued and the police were called.
When the meeting eventually started, one of the trustees, an estate agent, explained the committee’s intention to buy the house in Tavistock Road.
“She did not explain who authorised the transaction and when asked why the general body had not voted on this proposal, in violation of the constitution, she avoided the question,” one worshipper told the Advertiser.
“The chairman (Cllr Bains) then stood up to take questions and was repeatedly asked the same questions. He simply could not give an answer.
“Several members asked him not to proceed with the purchase but the vice president replied that they will proceed.”
Guneet Singh, a spokesperson for the group opposing the purchase, said: “It did get quite heated inside. We said that, at that moment, the general body was in front of them so why not take a show of hands. They refused and decided to go ahead anyway.
“There’s something untoward in this whole transaction. They are not being transparent and it raises suspicions. Something really isn’t right.”
A spokesperson for the Charity Commission said: “The Commission has received a complaint relating to Siri Guru Singh Sabha Croydon and the decision making process of its trustees in the plans to purchase a new property.
“We have written to the trustees to remind them that the governing document of the charity states…any expenses more than £10,000 shall require the approval of the general body.
“The complainant alleges that the approval of the general body has not been obtained. We are awaiting a response from the trustees.”
Estate agent Barnard Marcus confirmed the property was under offer before the AGM.
Harvinder Singh denied the constitution had been breached and said the members had approved the purchase.
“Not a single penny had been spent from the charity account before the AGM,” said Mr Singh.
“We received the necessary approval from the members of the charity during the AGM.”
He added: “We had a consultation with the management committee, trustees and life members before putting in an offer.
“If we waited for the AGM to put an offer this way we will never get a property. It’s common sense.
“No property is bought until contracts have been exchanged. If our members think this is not suitable we can withdraw our offer at any time without financial loss.”
Cllr Bains has so far declined to comment on his decision to step down.