It’s always strange to abruptly learn about potentially devastating scandals after they’ve been resolved. This email was the first I heard about a big potential problem for Atheist Alliance International, but it was a relief to learn at the same time that it has been satisfactorily taken care of.
On January 29, Atheist Alliance International received a fraudulent request for funds transfer, originating from our email@example.com address. We did not honour the request, and we reported it to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), who assigned a case number. All AAI Board members are well-aware of AAI’s policy of Board approval for all non-operational expenses, excepting the President’s monthly discretionary spending. For obvious reasons, our Treasurer did not transfer the funds, and no further correspondence was received by the requester.
As a prominent atheist organization, AAI is no stranger to fraudulent request for funds. We ignore obvious scams, and when a financial institution is misrepresented, we forward said correspondence to their spoof or phishing reporting e-mail address. However, the timing of the request, closely coinciding with the other anonymous accusations against Mr. Romano, raised our Treasurer’s suspicions, so she reported it to the Board. Mr. Romano stated that he was unaware of the request prior, and that he did not send it nor the follow-up. The Board has no reason to doubt this is true. Our Treasurer turned in the relevant documentation to the local authorities, who assigned a case number. However, since AAI did not suffer a financial loss from this fraudulent attempt, it is unlikely that this case will get prioritized if even addressed.
Four days later, on February 2, 2017, Atheist Alliance International (AAI) received correspondence from an anonymous source, who accused our President, Onur Romano, of being “a serial abuser, and he escapes from law and persecution, country after country.” Our Secretary immediately contacted the local authorities in the city where Mr. Romano resides, as well as the authorities in the Secretary’s country of residence to report the accusation and offer our full cooperation.
Mr. Romano submitted his resignation on February 5, 2017 in the interest of preserving our organization’s reputation. AAI proceeded with an internal investigation. Mr. Romano has denied the allegations made by the anonymous accuser, and cooperated fully and transparently with both the local authorities and AAI, at his own expense. He denied the anonymous accuser’s allegations, and produced documentation showing a clean criminal record in Turkey, the US, and Canada, and documentation of his acquittal of the charges in USA. He has also issued a letter from his lawyer in USA, confirming that “although Mr.Cilek(Romano) requested a timely trial while the evidence and recollection of witnesses was fresh and the witnesses were in the area and available to testify,” the case against him was dismissed in 2003 because “the State felt that they would not meet their burden of proving a case against Mr.Cilek(Romano)”.
Our internal investigation further addressed an allegation by one of our member organizations’ leadership, who claimed that a member of their organization voted for Mr. Romano to the role of AAI President without authorization. Our records indicate that Mr. Romano nominated himself as an individual member of AAI, and did not identify any affiliate or associate member, or individual representing same, as an endorser in his application. His application was presented to AAI’s Board in November 2015, and the on-line motion to accept him as a Board member was unanimous. He was unanimously elected as President by the Board in April 2016, and the motion to confirm his role was passed at our 2015 AGM unanimously.
On April 7, 2017, the RCMP followed up, stating their investigation is finalized and did not support any of the anonymous allegations, confirming Mr. Romano’s clean record and legitimate residency in Canada, and advising us to regard the matter as closed.
In the unanticipated possibility that the relevant legal authorities seek further information from AAI, we remain committed to transparency, and we will cooperate to the best of our abilities to facilitate any legal investigation. In the interim, we consider this issue settled. AAI regards this investigation as closed. Further, the Board supported Mr. Romano’s immediate re-instatement as President of AAI on April 5, 2017.
I bet this kind of thing is a huge problem for any atheist organization: a Turkish atheist, like Romano, is always going to be a target. It sounds like AAI did everything right, treating the accusations seriously and investigating thoroughly. My one concern is that it mentions an internal investigation; that’s fine unless there are deeper concerns about the culture at the organization. Would anyone trust an internal investigation into sexual harassment claims by Uber? AAI does not have that kind of reputation — their bylaws mandate diversity in their board, for instance — but repeated accusations ought to face external review of some sort.
AAI retains my confidence, though.