A high-profile recipient of a major Scottish Government grant remained as head of a charity for almost four years despite being disqualified from holding a directorship.
Azzam Mohamad, who accompanied Alex Salmond to Iran, was a director of the Ahl Al Bait Society May until 2014. Since November 2014, the Glasgow-based Muslim charitable organisation has been awarded more than £220,000 through the Scottish Government’s Climate Challenge Fund.
Disqualified directors cannot be a director of any UK company. Penalties for breaking the disqualification terms are a fine or up to two years in prison.
Mohamad, who was born in Lebanon but has long been based in Glasgow, has strong ties to the Iranian government and is well-connected across Scottish political life.
He is also vice-convenor of the Muslim Council of Scotland and accompanied former first minister Alex Salmond on his visit to Iran in 2015.
Ahl Al Bait is a charity and a company, registered with Companies House since 1996. Disqualified directors cannot be either a company director or a charity director during the period of their disqualification.
In December 2010, Mohamad was disqualified from holding a company directorship following his role as a director of Global Distribution (Scotland) Limited, which dissolved following liquidation in August of that year.
Mohammad is barred from being a “director of a company, or in any way, either directly or indirectly be concerned to take part in the promotion, formation or management of a company” under the Company Directors Disqualification Act 1986. Companies House does not automatically removed disqualified directors from directorships but does contact disqualified directors to inform them that they must resign.
Mohamad eventually resigned as director and secretary of the Ahl Al Bait Society in May 2014, more than three and a half years after being disqualified as a company director.
On May 29 2014 – the day he stepped down as a director – Mohamad’s brother Rachid Ali became a director of Ahl Al Bait Society according to documents filed at Companies House. Mohamad still refers to himself as the Ahl Al-Bait Society’s director on his Facebook page.
In October 2014, Ahl Al-Bait applied to the Scottish Government’s Climate Challenge Fund, and was awarded £134,431 to install energy efficient measures in the society’s community centre in Glasgow and to run energy efficiency workshops. On the application form, Mohamad was listed as the society’s president. He gave his occupation as self-employed.
The Ahl Al Bait Society has since been awarded two more grants from the Climate Challenge Fund – £86,495 for another energy efficient project in March 2016 and a £1,500 development grant in September of last year. Mohamad is project manager on these grants, for which he is paid an annual salary of £24,000. The project is due to finish at the end of March. The society’s most recent application to the Climate Challenge Fund was unsuccessful.
As a charity, the Ahl Al Bait Society is also registered with the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator. According to accounts filed with the OSCR, the Society took in £48,591 in the year to 21 August 2015.
Azzam Mohamad said: “I took advice and was informed that as the Society was a registered charity this did not prohibit my being a director. Obviously the advice I was given was wrong but I was acting in good faith.
“However, in 2014 OSCR wrote to me and told me that I could not be a director of the society. I resigned immediately.” Mohamad added that he made “no personal gain” by being a director while disqualified.
“Once my error was pointed out to me I took the appropriate action,” he said.
OSCR said they do not comment on individual cases but confirmed that legislation states that anyone who is disqualified from being a company director is also disqualified from acting as a charity trustee.
“The (Climate Challenge Fund) job was advertised and I was interviewed. I was not given the job because I was a former director of the society,” Mohamad added.
Mohamad, who has lived in Scotland for well over a decade, first came to prominence during opposition to the 2006 Lebanon War. Since then he has become a familiar face in the Scottish community sector. He has been photographed with numerous leading figures in Scottish public life including Nicola Sturgeon, Kezia Dugdale and former Police Scotland chief Stephen House.
Mohammad was chair of the organising committee of an event called the Peace and Unity conference, held at Celtic Park in Glasgow in 2013. The conference, designed to encourage dialogue between Muslims and non-Muslims was sponsored by the World Forum for Proximity of Islamic Schools of Thought, which is headed by Ayatollah Sheikh Mohsen Araki.
Araki – an Iranian cleric with ties to the Hezollah leader Hassan Nasrallah – attended the Glasgow conference. Also in attendance were the then first minister Alex Salmond, his successor Nicola Sturgeon, and Labour’s Anas Sarwar. The event was covered by Iran’s Press TV.
Since that conference Mohamad has been involved in arranging visits to Iran for Scottish politicians. He accompanied Alex Salmond and SNP MP Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh’s on a 2015 visit to Tehran, which was widely seen as a diplomatic coup for the Iranian Government. While in Iran the former SNP leader met a range of government ministers and parliamentarians, including Iran’s foreign affairs minister and the speaker of the parliament.
Such high profile links with Iran have caused disquiet in some sections of Scotland’s Muslim community, given Tehran’s on-going support for the Syrian regime of Assad. “There is a lot of concern that this agenda is being pushed to Scottish political leaders,” said a well-placed source in the Muslim community.
“I travelled to Iran in my capacity as the vice convener of the Muslim Council of Scotland. This is a matter of record,” Mohamad said.
A Scottish Government spokesman said:“The climate challenge fund has robust procedures in place when assessing applications to the fund, including assessment of the governance structures of applicants, while all subsequent funding recommendations are made by an independent panel.
“We have full confidence in the procedures adhered to by the fund’s administrators, Keep Scotland Beautiful, and the integrity of the independent panel.”
A spokesperson for Keep Scotland Beautiful said:”The Ahl Al Bait Society applied for funding from the Climate Challenge Fund in October 2014. No concerns were identified at this time based on checks made on the application.
“The Ahl Al Bait Society funding from the Climate Challenge Fund will come to an end on 31 March 2017.
“We understand Mr Mohamad is currently employed by the Ahl Al Bait Society. At no time while in receipt of funding from the Climate Challenge Fund has he been listed with Companies House as a Director of the Ahl Al Bait society.”