Concerns raised about Saskatoon charity's Africa donations

A Saskatchewan church pastor says African aid from a charity in Saskatoon turned out to be worth far less than he was originally led to believe — $78,000 versus at least $1 million.

It’s the latest allegation in the case of International Fellowship Mission Inc., which Canada Revenue Agency deregistered as a charity last month.

The tax agency says it’s not satisfied aid from that charity actually got to where it was supposed to go.

When it revoked the registration of IFM in January, it said the charity fell afoul of its rules by working with Universal Barter Group, a registered tax shelter.

Specifically, the tax agency says IFM improperly issued receipts for "gifts" that didn’t qualify as tax deductions — at the direction of people from Universal Barter Group.

The move stripped IFM of its right to issue income tax receipts, putting tax breaks for its donors in jeopardy.

IFM is one of a string of charities operated by Les Mandtler, who lives in Saskatoon.

Felix Quaye, a pastor in Humboldt, says medicine Mandtler offered to send to Ghana appears to be worth far less than what he claims Mandtler told him it was.

"I was shocked. I was really shocked," said Felix Quaye.

Documents obtained by the CBC show a trail of transactions between Mandtler’s IFM, Universal Barter Group, and another charity Quaye runs.

Quaye’s charity is called Canadian African Mission Foundation (CAMF). The aid group is a fund-raising arm of the All Nations Bible Church and Training Centre in Accra, Ghana.

Quaye says a few years ago Mandtler approached him with an offer to ship pharmaceuticals to Ghana — medication for high blood pressure and other ailments.

Quaye says he took delivery of them while he was in Accra. He then asked a local pharmacist to appraise the value of the shipment.

“He said it’s about $78,000,” Quaye recalled.

But Quaye says Mandtler had told him the shipment was worth "one-point-something million".

Financial reports filed with the Canada Revenue Agency show IFM gave CAMF "Gifts of Enduring Property" worth $1,123,280 in 2008. The following year there was another transfer to CAMF worth $690,437.

Quaye says those figures in the financial reports are simply inaccurate. He denies CAMF received anything valued near those amounts from IFM.

"I’m really surprised that Les would pull this fast one," Quaye said.

Quaye says Mandtler took the second batch of pharmaceuticals to Ghana and distributed it himself.

"I had no knowledge of how much it was," Quaye said.

Those figures from 2008 and 2009 match amounts cited in a letter the CRA sent Mandtler after an audit.

The letter alleges donors purchased something called TradeBUX — without putting up any cash — from Universal Barter Group.

The CRA describes Universal Barter Group as a "tax shelter gifting arrangement" that enables participants to receive TradeBUX on credit and donate them to a participating registered charity.

It goes on to say IFM received TradeBUX, issued tax receipts for them, and used them "to purchase pharmaceuticals which were shipped to Ghana".

The CRA says Mandtler didn’t know what the TradeBUX were actually worth — and didn’t try to find out.

Turning the pharmaceuticals over to another group also didn’t go over well with the CRA.

In the tax agency’s letter to Mandtler, it wrote: "Our audit revealed that the majority of the pharmaceuticals were transferred to intermediaries where there were no agency agreements and/or where agency agreements existed, the terms thereof were not fully complied with. As such, the CRA cannot ascertain that the pharmaceuticals were distributed as part of the Organization’s own programs."

The CRA says it can’t even be sure of what was shipped, or how much: "The Organization did provide three documents to substantiate a shipment of pharmaceuticals with a purported value of $1.8 million in 2010. Our reviews of the documents indicate that there were two types of pharmaceuticals purportedly shipped, yet the pharmaceuticals do not appear on the packing list or air waybill. And, as per above, there were no further documents provided to confirm the receipt of the pharmaceuticals or the distribution of the pharmaceuticals upon their arrival in Ghana."

The CRA has declined to answer any questions from the CBC on the contents of that letter.

According to the Humboldt pastor, the case also has a connection to another Mandtler-affiliated organization.

Quaye says he got the medications through a group Mandtler operates called Oil of Joy Ministries. Oil of Joy is listed as a “sole proprietorship” of another non-profit group headed by Mandtler, Saskatoon Family Network Inc.

According to the provincial corporate registry, International Fellowship Mission went dormant in 2009. But Mandtler’s other two organizations appear to remain active. Saskatoon Family Network was still filing financial returns last year.

Mandtler has not responded to the CBC’s requests for comment. Universal Barter Group has not returned the CBC’s messages requesting an interview.

Meanwhile TradeBUX donors could have to shell out more money for income tax. The CRA says deductions could be disallowed or adjusted, if a transaction is deemed “not a true gift” or the value is inflated.

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