(RNS) The Rev. Andrew White, acclaimed as the Anglican “Vicar of Baghdad” for his outreach among Iraqi Christians, has been suspended with pay and his British charity placed under official investigation over allegations that money used to redeem sex slaves ended up in the hands of the Islamic State.
“We never gave the bad guys one penny,” White said in denying the charges.
The U.K.’s official Charity Commission on Thursday (June 23) “confirmed that it opened a statutory inquiry into the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East on June 9, 2016.”
The commission declined to comment further on White’s organization, which also goes by the acronym FRRME.
“The foundation is cooperating fully with the appropriate authorities,” FRRME said on its website. “It would be inappropriate to comment further on an active investigation other than to say that the foundation believes at this stage that the alleged incident stemmed from a genuine desire by Canon White to help others.”
White became a hero to many as he stood by his congregation, St. George’s Church in Baghdad, the only Anglican parish in Iraq, throughout more than a decade of brutal war after the 2003 U.S. invasion.
He also spoke out for persecuted Christians in Iraq as the Christian population was decimated in the aftermath of the invasion, dropping from some 1.5 million to about 200,000 today.
White has personally been shot at and kidnapped and rebuilt his church after a bombing. The archbishop of Canterbury ordered him to leave Iraq for security reasons in 2014 and he has since been focused on charity work with FRRME.
FRRME had income of $4.4 million in 2014 for relief and reconciliation outreach in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Cyprus and Israel.
But the work of ransoming is controversial. Critics of the redemption of hostages from ISIS for cash say that the practice in reality finances further acts of terror and hostage-taking.
“As you may have heard, I have been suspended from my role as president of the FRRME,” White posted on his Facebook page Thursday. “This is in response to some inaccurate statements I made about our work with and funding for the former slave girls taken by ISIS.
“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.”
In a brief email interview White added:
“We never gave the bad guys one penny. We were just helping those who had been released.”
He denied any direct involvement with the controversial redemption efforts of Canadian Steve Maman, labeled the “Jewish Schindler” for his claim to have liberated about 130 “sex slave” women and girls from ISIS, starting in 2015.
In a September 2015 interview with Jewish Voice NY, Maman, whose organization is called the Liberation of Christian and Yazidi Children of Iraq, called White “the most important aid I currently have.”
White, he said, “is a world-respected humanitarian figure. … Together we have saved more than 102 children so far, and it increases every day. Canon Andrew White has nothing to do with the liberation aspect. He handles and provides support after they are liberated.”
Another organization, Rape Is No Joke, in September 2015 filed a complaint with the office of U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch alleging that Maman’s group is breaking federal law by providing “material support” to ISIS.
The letter says that top dollar for a sex slave is $150, but Maman’s group pays $2,000 to $3,000 per person. “This has accelerated the pace of trade,” RINJ said.
(Timothy Morgan is a contributor to RNS)