The consumer watchdog has ordered an independent financial audit of The Shane Warne Foundation amid mounting concerns over mismanagement at the prominent philanthropic group.
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'Nothing to hide at the Shane Warne Foundation'
In November 2015, former Australian cricketer Shane Warne denied claims his foundation was under investigation by Consumer Affairs over its accounting practices.
On Friday, it was revealed the legendary cricketer plans to shut down the foundation in the wake of the "protest" resignation of its chief executive officer and the loss of a number of sponsors and a celebrity ambassador.
Fairfax Media can reveal Shane Warne has also cancelled the signature event for the foundation set for next weekend, the Joe Hachem and Shane Warne Charity Poker Tournament, which was expected to provide a big financial boost for his personal charity.
The surprise move to shut down the charity comes as Consumer Affairs Victoria orders an independent audit to determine whether money it received in recent years has been "properly accounted for and applied" in compliance with state fundraising laws.
The consumer watchdog began "monitoring" the foundation last year after flagging "inconsistencies" in its reporting and accounting practices. The charity had also failed to file its annual report.
"CAV subsequently made a number of requests for the required financial information, however what was provided was not sufficient," a CAV spokesman told The Sunday Age.
"Because of this, on 24 December 2015 the Director of CAV under section 32 of the Act issued a formal request with TSFW for an independent auditor's report on its fundraising activities for the past three and a half years."
The report is due to be completed by the end of February.
The foundation, which supports ill and underprivileged children, has performed poorly over the past five years after staging expensive star-studded events like cricket matches, gala dinners and poker tournaments that have delivered a low fundraising return.
Fairfax Media understands Warne will attribute the demise of the foundation to recent media coverage of its financial performance and lack of transparency.
"The board have not made any decision on the future of the foundation," Warne said on Friday.
But a source close to the charity said plans are under way to close the charity in light of the departure of three corporate sponsors and a celebrity ambassador, renewed scrutiny from the consumer watchdog, and the recent "protest" resignation of its chief executive officer.
"The foundation is in total disarray – the management team is gone and no one is really in charge, sponsors are angry at the way things have been handled, the latest financials are bad, and there's a real public perception problem," the source said.
Meanwhile, Channel 10 announced on Saturday that an "international cricketing megastar" would be a contestant on reality TV show I'm A Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here!
Fairfax Media understands Warne was offered a massive salary to appear on the program, which is due to begin shooting on location in South Africa next weekend.
"And again 'I have not signed anything to do with Ch 10's jungle show'," Warne tweeted on Friday night.
At one point, Warne was planning to attend a gaming conference in Britain in early February.
Warne declined to comment.
Warne has previously said the poker tournament would be key to delivering a promised $400,000 donation to the foundation's beneficiaries, bringing its total contribution to charity to $4 million since 2003.
He has previously said the foundation has donated an average of 50 cents on every dollar raised across the 12-year life of the charity. This figure cannot be confirmed.
Fairfax Media has applied for access to the foundation's complete annual financial records under Victoria's Fundraising Act but has been denied access by the foundation in breach of the law.
After being "reminded" of its legal disclosure obligations by CAV last week, the 2014-15 report was released. Access was not granted to records for other years.
The latest figures show the foundation donated to charity just 24 cents of every dollar it raised in 2014-15.
This charitable distribution – worth about $134,000 – meant the foundation operated at a loss because expenses consumed 86 per cent of its revenue.
A related entity, The Shane Warne Necessitous Circumstances Fund, handed out a further $79,500 to charity that year, which could push the distribution level to 32 cents on the dollar and reduce expenses to 71 per cent of revenue.
However, the foundation has repeatedly refused to clarify whether the Necessitous Circumstances Fund is supported by distributions from the main charity or is funded independently, which would have an impact on the distribution and expense calculations. In effect some donations could have been counted twice.
By comparison, men's health charity Movember reports that 86 cents of every dollar raised is spent on charitable endeavours, while the Red Cross is 79 cents and Oxfam is 66 cents.
The foundation had also previously attempted to have its financial records declared confidential by the national charities regulator under a legal exemption that has been used by domestic violence charities to protect their privacy and security.
In November, amid mounting problems, the foundation's board – which includes Eddie McGuire, Seek.com founder Andrew Bassat, Crown executive Ann Peacock, and TV personality Glenn Robbins – had promised a major shake-up to its operations.
This included hiring a new chief executive, Emma Coleman, a "change management and strategy specialist" who was brought in to slash expenses, boost donations and ensure the foundation was complying with state fundraising laws.
But Ms Coleman resigned before Christmas amid concerns the restructure plans announced publicly were potentially misleading donors and sponsors.
Ms Coleman had been told her employment contract would end in February after she finished signing up a number of high-value sponsors and media attention about the foundation's regulatory problems had died down.
Fairfax Media understands her resignation, as well as publicity about the charity's financial and transparency issues, has generated significant disquiet among sponsors, ambassadors and some board members.
Travel group iTalkTravel, Mercedes-Benz Brighton, and IT company Vibe Group are no longer listed as sponsors for the foundation.
Reality TV star Lydia Schiavello from Real Housewives of Melbourne has also resigned from her role as an "ambassador".
Geoff Quirk, dealer principal at Mercedes-Benz Brighton, said the recent controversies involving the foundation had "no bearing" on the decision to end its relationship.
"I like the charitable work they have done over the years. We signed a 12-month memorandum of support with the foundation and that has now ended."
iTalkTravel chief Tom Manwaring also praised the foundation's work and said its relationship was also only ending due to the completion of an existing contract.
Vibe Group declined to comment. Schiavello did not respond to a request for comment.