Canon Andrew White suspended in dispute over alleged payments to rescue ISIS sex slaves

The Vicar of Baghdad was suspended by the charity he founded amid an investigation into alleged payments used to rescue Islamic State sex slaves, according to The Times.

Canon Andrew White, 52, who was ordered to leave Iraq at the end of 2014 by the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby over fears for his safety, has continued working in the Middle East and worldwide to help Christians, Yazidis and other minorities fleeing ISIS.

He was suspended after the Charity Commission launched an investigation into the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East, the charity he set up in 2010 when he was Vicar of St George's Church, Baghdad. 

Last October Canon White posted a notice on Facebook where he said: "Want to know what we are doing to help the Yazidi sex slaves?"

He linked through to an interview by Dr Sarah Ahmed, director of Iraq operations for the foundation, who told The Church Times that the charity was helping 155 girls who had been rescued after being captured by Islamic State.

Canon White is mentioned on the website of the Liberation of Christian and Yazidi Children of Iraq, an organisation in Canada, which says: "The price of a child's life to remove them from the hands of ISIS is between $1000-$3000. We, as avid consumers, spend that money on gadgets and tools. Why not spend that money to save a life? Most of the girls and women held by ISIS are being used as sex slaves, raped up to 30 times a day by both Islamic fighters and local men."

On the same page is published an endorsement by Canon White for the "transparency" of what the organisation does.

Canon White's foundation has denied any links between the two organisations. As a registered charity in the UK, the foundation is not allowed to engage in hostage release negotiations. Also, paying ransoms to proscribed terror groups is illegal. 

According to The Times, Canon White has said in the past that making payments for the release of the sex slaves is "the only way" to get their freedom. However, Iraq's Yazidi community has also demanded evidence of the Canadian group's claim to have rescued 130 sex slaves.

Canon White, currently in Jordan, did not respond to Christian Today's request for comment but wrote on Facebook that his suspension was "in response to some inaccurate statements I made about our work with and funding for the former slave girls taken by ISIS."

He wrote: "What is clear is that at no time did we pay money to any terrorists. Whilst I cannot work on behalf of the FRRME I continue to lead worship and support individuals that we are helping."

He asked his Facebook followers to "pray for us at this very difficult time".

In a statement on its website, the foundation says: "The Rev Canon Andrew White has been suspended with pay by the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East pending the findings of a Charity Commission Statutory Enquiry.

"The Foundation is cooperating fully with the appropriate authorities. 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."

The Charity Commission said in a statement: "In response to a statement published on the website of the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East, The Charity Commission ('the commission'), the independent regulator of charities in England and Wales, can confirm that it opened a statutory inquiry into the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East, registered charity number 1133576 on 9 June 2016. The commission cannot comment further on this live investigation at this time."

The charity's details can be viewed on the commission's online charity search tool.