Comic Relief Accused of Investing Millions in Arms, Alcohol and Tobacco

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By Ewan Palmer | December 10, 2013 9:00 PM EST

The charity has raised nearly £1bn in donations since it began (Comic Relief)

Comic Relief has defended itself following claims that it has invested millions of pounds in alcohol, tobacco and weapons manufacturing firms.

According to an investigation by BBC's Panorama, the charity invested £630,000 in arms firm BAE systems and more than £300,000 in alcohol manufacturer Diageo.

The charity has been accused of contradicting several of its core aims, such as helping people affected by conflict and alcohol abuse. The BBC, whose investigation focused on the years 2007 to 2009, also claims it has invested as much as £3m in shares in tobacco companies.

Comic Relief was launched in 1985 and has raised nearly £1bn in donations. The charity distributes money raised to several other charities based in the UK and abroad, sometimes over a period of several years.

The BBC says Comic Relief holds millions of pounds at any one time and uses a number of managed funds to invest the money on its behalf. 

Comic Relief also insisted its approach to investing falls within regulatory guidelines and that it has behaved much like other large charities and pension funds.

The charity said: "To fulfil our legal obligation, Charity Commission guidelines are clear that charities are required to maximise returns on money in their care.

"We have thought long and hard about how best to look after the large sums of money in our care while it is waiting to be paid out. Having taken into account practical, legal and moral considerations we decided we would not invest directly in any individual company. 

"Instead we put the money into large managed funds, like many other leading charities and pension funds. We do not invest directly in any individual company. We believe this approach has delivered the greatest benefits to the most vulnerable people."

Panorama also alleges that Amnesty International squandered donors' money during its Secret Policeman's Ball in 2012. The event was described by a whistleblower as a "disaster" after it allegedly lost more than £750,000.

An Amnesty International UK spokesman said: "The March 2012 Secret Policeman's Ball raised awareness of Amnesty International much more cost-effectively than advertising would have done and helped us to increase income for our human rights work.

"While it raises money for us, the ball's primary objective has always been to raise awareness and the fact it might not cover its costs was agreed in November 2011 when the event received final sign-off."

BBC One's Panorama investigation All in a Good Cause will be shown on Tuesday 10 December at 22:35.

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