Why Pen Farthing’s Operation Ark is under investigation

Charity watchdog says it is looking into the financial arrangements of the animal airlift from Afghanistan

A dog rescued by Nowzad in Kabul
A dog rescued by Nowzad in Kabul
(Image credit: Wakil Kohsar/AFP via Getty Images)

Former Marine Pen Farthing’s mission to rescue animals from Afghanistan and bring them to the UK as the country fell to the Taliban will be examined by the Charity Commission.

The charity regulator has told the BBC it is “looking into the funding arrangements” of Operation Ark, the mission that raised more than £200,000 from supporters in a matter of days.

It was organised by Farthing’s animal charity Nowzad to rescue his staff, their families and the animals in its care.

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The watchdog has asked Nowzad for further information after “receiving reports around the governance and financial arrangements of Operation Ark”, said the BBC. It is now examining “the use of charity funds for the evacuation and whether it is in line with the charity’s purpose”, according to the broadcaster.

Farthing, a former Royal Marine, chartered a private flight out of Afghanistan, bringing 170 cats and dogs into the UK from Afghanistan on 31 August.

But his mission led to criticism that “the British authorities were spending more resources on rescuing animals from Afghanistan” than on the “Afghan civilians and security personnel who had helped British forces against the Taliban”, reported The Telegraph.

Farthing was criticised by Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, in particular, who said he refused to put “pets over people”.

However, Farthing has insisted that military resources were not redirected for the mission.

The animal charity founder was forced to leave behind his Afghan staff “amid chaotic scenes” as the capital Kabul fell to the Taliban, reported The Guardian.

Once back in England, Farthing had worked to help evacuate his 68 Nowzad animal shelter staff and family members from Afghanistan, which included 25 children and one newborn baby. They were unable to leave the country until a fortnight later, arriving in Islamabad, Pakistan, on 11 September.

Nowzad has said it has acted correctly, telling the BBC: “The trustees are wholly confident that Nowzad’s life-saving work in incredibly difficult circumstances was both the right and only thing to do and was absolutely in furtherance of the charity’s purpose.”

It confirmed to the broadcaster that the Charity Commission is asking for the trustees’ comments on Operation Ark including, specifically, how it furthered the charity’s purpose.

“The trustees of course recognise that it is entirely proper for the Commission to gather more information regarding this high-profile and unprecedented operation and are very happy to provide the information requested,” said the charity.

The Charity Commission has made clear it is gathering information and has made no decisions at this stage.

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