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UK watchdog investigating concerns over Pakistani Christian charity; director resigns

Wilson Chowdhry, BPCA Chairman
British Pakistani Christian Association Chairman Wilson Chowdhry poses for a picture outside of the Embassy for the Islamic Republic of Pakistan in Bangkok, Thailand. |

UPDATE: Sept. 4, 2019: The British Pakistani Christian Association notified the United Kingdom Companies House that former director Wilson Chowdhry "ceased" serving as a "person of significant control" with the charity. A cessation document was received for online filing by the Companies House on Sept. 1 and effective as of June 22, 2019. As of last week, Chowdhry had still been listed as "active" as a person of influence or control even though he had resigned from his position as director.

The Charity Commission for England and Wales is looking into concerns over a Christian nonprofit that provides aid to persecuted Pakistani Christians as questions remain after its director resigned.

The commission, a nonprofit regulatory body that answers to the United Kingdom Parliament, confirmed to The Christian Post that it is “aware of concerns relating to British Pakistani Christians Ltd.”

“We are assessing those concerns in line with our risk framework,” an email statement from a commission spokesperson reads. “We cannot comment further at this stage.”

The Essex-based organization, incorporated in 2013, is known more commonly as the British Pakistani Christian Association and is sometimes referred to as the British Asian Christian Association. 

The charity advocates and spreads awareness of the persecution Christians face in the Muslim-majority country and the struggles of Pakistani Christian refugees in countries like Thailand, Sri Lanka and Malaysia. The organization also has provided aid to persecuted Christian families in need of assistance or protection. 

In July, the charity submitted a termination filing to the U.K. Companies House, explaining that its chairman, Wilson Chowdhry, resigned as "director" of the organization in late June. 

Chowdhry, 44, has become a prominent voice for persecuted Pakistani Christians in the global media and has been interviewed over the years by several news outlets such as BBC, Sky News and The Christian Post. 

Chowdhry told The Christian Post that he resigned for “personal reasons." However, he did not address the Charity Commission investigation nor an accusation that his resignation came on the heels of an alleged moral failing. 

CP was contacted by a 31-year-old woman named Lara Hall, who formerly served in a volunteer capacity for BPCA in Australia.

Hall alleged that she was involved with Chowdhry in an extramarital affair that reached its peak during the course of about two weeks when Chowdhry traveled to Australia in early to mid-February 2019.

Hall also claimed to be a victim of sexual violence during the relationship and says she filed a police report against Chowdhry in Victoria. Hall shared a copy of the 17-page report with CP. After the alleged relationship ended, she presented allegations of sexual misconduct to BPCA's chief donor, which, she argued, later resulted in Chowdhry's resignation as director. 

However, BPCA donor Paul Searle contended to CP in a phone interview that Chowdhry resigned as a director to spend more time with his wife and children. 

“He was keen to ensure that he was putting his family first,” Searle said. 

Although the U.K. Companies House lists Chowdhry as having resigned as director, the government agency's online database still lists Chowdhry as the only "active" person at BPCA "with significant influence or control" as of Wednesday morning. 

BPCA has not yet provided clarification on what role Chowdhry still has with BPCA, whether Chowdhry is still on the four-member BPCA board of trustees or if anyone has been selected as the new head of the organization.   

BPCA Secretary Vanessa Ramchurn told CP last week that BPCA would respond to questions related to Hall's claims after Chowdhry responds to CP's request for comment.

While Chowdhry is still listed as the only person "with significant control," the Companies House database currently lists Ramchurn, Juliet Chowdhry (Wilson's wife), and a woman named Dorah Mayah as BPCA directors. All three women are also listed as members of the organization's board of trustees in a filing submitted by BPCA in June 2019. 

Hall, a lawyer by trade, told CP that she came into contact with Chowdhry last November when she reached out to ask how she could help BPCA advocate on behalf of Pakistani Christian mother Asia Bibi after Bibi was released from death row following the Pakistan Supreme Court’s acquittal of her blasphemy conviction.

Hall said she helped Chowdhry and BPCA organize rallies in late November 2018 to call on the Australian government to accept Bibi as a refugee before Bibi ultimately was resettled to Canada. 

According to Hall, feelings between her and Chowdhry grew into something more than professional in the months following Chowdhry’s November travel to Australia as they continued to communicate through WhatsApp. 

“In conversations, he conveyed feelings for me and said that he would prefer a personality like me in his life,” Hall said, recalling their communication throughout last December and January.  

“There were obviously challenges with that because he is in an arranged marriage. I don’t purport to be morally perfect in this situation but I do argue that I was highly manipulated and that the power differential between us was quite significant. I did know that he was married and I don’t want to sugarcoat that.”

Hall claimed that she was led to believe that a future relationship with Chowdhry was viable due to what she said was a “volatile situation” in Chowdhry’s home life.  

When Chowdhry came to visit in early February, they slept in the same hotel rooms and had consensual sex on a number of occasions, she alleged.

Though the sexual relationship was consensual, she claimed there were times when she was physically forced to do a sexual act that she did not want to do. 

“There is no doubt in my mind that he knew I didn’t want to do this but he kept doing it anyway and despite me trying to [stop him], I just wasn’t strong enough,” Hall said.  “I honestly felt like I was going to die.”

Hall said she confided in confidants about the dynamics of her relationship with Chowdhry at the time and was told that what she was experiencing could amount to some form of sexual abuse. 

After the relationship came to an end, Hall filed a statement at a police station in Fawkner, Victoria, earlier this summer, alleging abuses during hotel stays in the Melbourne suburbs of Tullamarine and Box Hill in early to mid-February. 

Alistair Parsons, a senior constable with Victoria Police’s media unit, could only confirm to CP that detectives from the Fawkner Sexual Offences and Child Abuse Investigation Team “are investigating allegations of offenses that occurred in Tullamarine and Box Hill in February 2019.” 

The agency could not confirm which individuals the investigation involves because of the Privacy Act.

“As the investigation is ongoing it is not appropriate to provide further comment,” Parsons wrote in an email. 

Ramchurn confirmed to CP that Chowdhry traveled to Australia in February. She explained that Chowdhry had a “packed itinerary” that included meeting senior officers at the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade as well as several speaking engagements. 

Hall provided CP with screenshots, audio recordings and photographs that indicate that she and Chowdhry had been romantically involved to some extent, including a photograph of her and Chowdhry kissing and an audio recording of her and Chowdhry discussing intimate matters. 

Neither Chowdhry nor the BPCA has confirmed nor denied Hall’s accusations despite repeated requests for comment on the allegation. 

Chowdhry told CP last week, however, that he desired legal consultation before responding to CP's inquiry on the matter. 

A former BPCA volunteer in Australia who spoke to CP on the condition of anonymity vouched for Hall’s claims, stressing that she considered Chowdhry to be “abusive” at times. 

“[Lara] asked me many times about my opinion about the trajectory of their relationship,” the source said. “I said, ‘Not good.’ You can’t always be a voice for yourself but I could see it from a very objective point of view and I was worried.”

Although BPCA filed its termination of Chowdhry as a director with the Companies House in July, the resignation wasn’t made apparent in the public eye until The Ilford Recorder reported Chowdhry’s resignation in an article published on Aug. 16. 

According to Hall, the BPCA was referred to the Charity Commission by the Christian charity safeguarding body thirtyone:eight after she voiced concern to the organization about whether Chowdhry had truly stepped down since he was still promoting himself as a member of the organization.

Additionally, Hall said she facilitated the delivery, to Charity Commission, of testimonies of Pakistani Christian asylum seekers (many of whom are in Thailand) who feel as though they were not provided the aid that Chowdhry or other BPCA officers had promised them or their families. However, BPCA contests those claims.

The Christian Post is the process of investigating the validity of the asylum seekers’ claims.

“Any situation where you have people under duress, you will always have disgruntled individuals making some type of unsubstantiated claims,” Searle said. “I personally know Wilson Chowdhry and I am confident that money would not be misappropriated in any way.”

Ramchurn contended that Hall sparked the inquiry to "hurt Mr. Chowdhry, his family and the BPCA."  

Searle also argued that the investigation is “being driven by someone who has a vendetta against Wilson Chowdhry.” He believes that the Charity Commission investigation will find the claims that BPCA engaged in wrongdoing to be “unsubstantiated.”

“I think a lot of it is fallacious. I have been to Thailand myself. I have been to visit the detention center,” Searle argued. “The truth of the matter is that there are a variety of motives.”

“I genuinely don’t believe that the Charity Commission will find that there has been any wrongdoing of this kind. I really don’t.”

Follow Samuel Smith on Twitter: @IamSamSmith

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