Prince Charles’s charity was plunged into fresh crisis yesterday by a watchdog investigation.
Charity Commission chiefs are launching a statutory inquiry – their most serious level of probe – into its dealings with the Mahfouz Foundation.
They want to know whether the foundation received donations meant for the prince’s charity, with some cash then moved elsewhere.
The foundation is run by Mahfouz Marei Mubarak bin Mahfouz, a Saudi billionaire granted an honorary CBE by the prince in 2016.
Charles’s charity is already being probed by Scottish regulators over claims it accepted a £500,000 gift from a Russian donor that was later rejected by an ethics committee.
The latest development comes after the prince’s right-hand man quit over ‘cash for honours’ allegations. Michael Fawcett resigned as chief executive of the Prince’s Foundation following reports that he promised to secure a knighthood and British citizenship for Mr Mahfouz in exchange for major donations.
Saudi billionaire Mahfouz Marei Mubarak bin Mahfouz is pictured meeting Prince Charles
Michael Fawcett (right), one of Prince Charles’s closest confidantes, resigned after claims he allegedly promised to help secure a knighthood and British citizenship for Dr Bin Mahfouz
Michael Wynne Parker pictured at the Castle of Mey Trust Patrons Party held at the Goring Hotel in London in 2018
The Prince of Wales and The Duchess of Cornwall during a visit to the Great Sphinx of Giza, on the third day of their tour of the Middle East on Thursday
In 2017, Mr Fawcett wrote to an aide of Mr Mahfouz, who had donated £1.5million to help renovate two of the prince’s Scottish properties, saying that ‘in light of his ongoing and most recent generosity… we are willing and happy to support and contribute to the application for citizenship’.
On headed notepaper in his then-role as chief executive of the Dumfries House Trust, he added that the charity would also apply to raise his honorary CBE to a knighthood.
The letter may form a part of ‘initial’ police inquiries, it has emerged.
Sources said Charles was not aware of any link between donations to the foundation and honours.
Announcing its inquiry yesterday, the Charity Commission said of the Mahfouz Foundation: ‘The commission has been engaging with its trustees since September after media reports alleged that donations, intended for the Prince’s Foundation, went instead to the Mahfouz Foundation.
Michael Fawcett, 59, is pictured outside his home in South West London earlier this month
‘The regulator has also identified concerns around the trustees’ governance and financial control of the charity.’
Emily Anne Cherrington, 38, is now the acting chief executive of the Prince’s Foundation
The inquiry will examine whether ‘donations received by the Mahfouz Foundation were intended for the charity’, whether they were used ‘in accordance with donors’ intentions’ and whether they should be returned to donors.
It will also look at whether trustees have carried out legal duties.
The commission added that the scope of the inquiry could be extended ‘if additional issues emerge’.
It is believed the investigation will examine the whereabouts of £500,000 donated to the Prince’s Foundation by Dmitry Leus, a former Russian banker.
Footman to top man: The rise and fall of Prince Charles’ aide Michael Fawcett
1981: As a teenager, Michael Fawcett lands a job as junior footman to the Queen at Buckingham Palace. He later moves to Kensington Palace as assistant valet to Prince Charles, who is setting up home with Diana.
1990: He is reportedly trusted to squeeze toothpaste on to Charles’s brush when the prince broke an arm playing polo.
1992: When the royal couple separate, Diana has the locks of the marital apartment changed to keep out Fawcett, who pinned his loyalties to Charles.
1998: Three members of palace staff go to the prince to complain about Fawcett’s allegedly overbearing and bullying manner, and he quits. But his resignation leaves Charles in tears and he is reinstated and promoted within a week.
2000: Fawcett is appointed a Member of the Victorian Order by the Prince in the New Year’s Honours – an honour normally reserved for Royal Household members.
2003: He is again forced out for supposedly selling on behalf of Charles gifts the prince did not want. An internal inquiry clears him of any financial misconduct. He resigns but the prince rewards him with a £500,000 severance packet. Fawcett sets up a private events company, Premier Mode.
2005: Premier Mode organises Charles and Camilla’s wedding party.
2017: Fawcett joins the board of A G Carrick, a company Charles set up to sell mementoes at his Highgrove shop. Fawcett also runs the trust set up to run Prince Charles’s pet project, Dumfries House.
2018: Fawcett is appointed to a £95,000-a-year role as chief executive of Charles’s charity, The Prince’s Foundation.
2021: It is alleged that Fawcett fixed a CBE for a Saudi billionaire who had donated more than £1.5 million to royal charities. Fawcett resigns for the third time.
Following the donation, Prince Charles told Mr Leus he was ‘incredibly grateful’ and proposed the pair meet after the coronavirus pandemic.
But the foundation’s ethics committee rejected the money over concerns about a previous money-laundering conviction, which was later overturned.
Mr Leus insisted the money was not returned to him. In September, the Mail on Sunday reported that the Mahfouz Foundation had admitted holding £300,000 of the cash, with Michael Wynne-Parker, a society fixer, allegedly holding the remaining £200,000.
In a statement to the newspaper, Mr Leus said he had never heard of the Mahfouz Foundation and was ‘deeply shocked at what appears to have happened to a charitable donation given in good faith’.
The Mahfouz Foundation appears to have been set up in 2012 to promote the history and culture of the Middle East to the UK.
However there is little information on its website other than a black-and-white photograph of Mr Mahfouz alongside his title, including his honorary CBE.
Mr Mahfouz has been accused of paying fixers with links to the prince tens of thousands of pounds in the hope of securing an honour.
He allegedly believed a title would help him secure British citizenship. He denies any wrongdoing.
For the financial year to the end of April, the Mahfouz Foundation had a total income of just £10,000, records show.
It has two trustees, although Mr Mahfouz is not among them. Over the weekend, the Sunday Times reported that Mr Fawcett had agreed to help Mr Mahfouz secure a knighthood if he could back ‘three possibilities’ for donations to Dumfries House, Charles’s 18th century mansion.
One option was £10million to design and build houses in the area. The Prince’s Foundation was unable to comment because of the ongoing investigation but sources said it would be happy to offer its cooperation on the matter.
A spokesman for Clarence House declined to comment.
n The High Court’s decision to ban media organisations from a secret hearing about Prince Philip’s will has prompted legal action.
Lawyers are seeking permission to argue that a judge did not properly consider the need for open justice. The Duke of Edinburgh’s will is to be kept from public view for 90 years after a September ruling by Sir Andrew McFarlane, president of the family division of the High Court.
The legal challenge, brought by The Guardian, will draw attention to a century-long tradition that sees senior judges lock away wills belonging to royals.
British laws hold that all wills should be open to the public to ensure the wishes of the deceased are carried out and to alert creditors. Since the early 19th century the monarch has been exempt.