A former aide to the Prince of Wales has stepped down temporarily from his role as a charity boss while an investigation takes place into claims he offered to help secure an honour and British citizenship for a wealthy donor to royal charities.
Michael Fawcett, a former valet to Charles, has stepped down as chief executive of the Prince’s Foundation amid claims he helped coordinate an honour relating to the Saudi businessman Dr Mahfouz Marei Mubarak bin Mahfouz.
Mahfouz, who received a CBE in 2016, is listed as a supporter on the Prince’s Foundation website. The Sunday Times says he donated £1.5m to restoration projects of particular interest to Charles, including Dumfries House and the Castle of Mey in Scotland, adding that Mahfouz denies any wrongdoing.
According to leaked correspondence dating from 2011-2015, seen by the newspaper, Fawcett, whom Charles once said he could not manage without, coordinated the application process and helped upgrade the proposed honour for Mahfouz from an OBE to CBE.
A further letter in 2017 from Fawcett saying royal charities would be “happy and willing” to support an application for citizenship and to help further upgrade the CBE to a knighthood following donations, according to the Mail on Sunday.
The prince gave Mahfouz, 51, his “honorary” CBE – for those who are not British or Commonwealth nationals – at a private ceremony at Buckingham Palace in November 2016. The event was not published in the Court Circular, the official list of royal engagements, reported the Sunday Times, but official documents show that the Queen awarded Mahfouz a CBE “for services to charities in the UK”.
Fawcett and aides close to Charles are alleged to have coordinated the application process for the honour and provided official letters in support of it.
In 2015, a forest was named after the prolific Saudi donor at the Castle of Mey, formerly the Queen Mother’s home and now one of the prince’s Scottish residences. The Mahfouz Wood was named after the businessman, who is thought to have donated £370,000 to the charitable trust that runs the property.
According to a letter seen by the Mail on Sunday, Fawcett wrote on 18 August 2017 to an aide to Mahfouz, offering support to the citizenship application and offering to help upgrade the CBE to a knighthood following donations. It said: “In light of the ongoing and most recent generosity of His Excellency … I am happy to confirm to you, in confidence, that we are willing and happy to support and contribute to the application for Citizenship.
“I can further confirm that we are willing to make [an] application to increase His Excellency’s honour from Honorary CBE to that of KBE in accordance with Her Majesty’s Honours Committee.”
Written on headed paper while Fawcett was chief executive of the Dumfries House Trust, he said: “Both of these applications will be made in response to the most recent and anticipated support [of] The Trust, and in connection with his ongoing commitment generally within the United Kingdom”.
The following year, Dumfries House became part of the Prince’s Foundation, created through a merger of several of Charles’s charities, and Fawcett was appointed the chief executive.
The charity launched a separate investigation into ethics last week following “cash-for-access” claims that middlemen took cuts for setting up dinners involving wealthy donors and the heir to the throne.
Douglas Connell, chair of the Prince’s Foundation, said Fawcett had offered to step down temporarily from active duties as chief executive of the foundation while the trustees’ investigation is ongoing. “The Prince’s Foundation has accepted this offer. Michael fully supports the ongoing investigation and has confirmed that he will assist the investigation in every way,” he added in a statement.
It is understood that Emily Cherrington, chief operating officer, will take over in the interim, and that the Scottish Charity Regulator has been informed as the Prince’s Foundation is a charity registered in Scotland.
A spokesperson for the Prince’s Foundation said: “The scope of the Prince’s Foundation investigation has been extended to cover this weekend’s newspaper reports. The Trustees had already arranged an independent review by an external Senior Forensic Accountant from a ‘big four’ accountancy firm.”
The spokesperson added: “We are incredibly proud of the Prince’s Foundation’s charitable work and the positive impact it has on our beneficiaries throughout the UK and across the world … Our education and training programmes, in particular, benefit more than 15,000 people every year, and provide our students with the skills and confidence needed to gain employment or start their own businesses.”
Fawcett began his royal service in 1981 as a footman to the Queen, rising through the ranks to sergeant footman and then Charles’s assistant valet, setting out his bespoke suits and shirts every morning at Kensington Palace.
He resigned in 1998 following bullying claims, but was reinstated and promoted a week later. He resigned again in 2003, following a report into gifts to the royal household. The internal inquiry cleared him of financial misconduct but painted a picture of an alleged bully who accepted valuable gifts from outsiders. He continued to work for Charles on a freelance basis.