Charitable status of the Wau Holland Foundation

History of the revocation

The fiscal authorities in Kassel revoked [1] the charitable status of the Wau Holland Foundation (WHF) after an intervention by the Hessian Ministry of the Interior ([2],[3],[4],[5]) towards the end of 2010. As the reason for this decision, the authorities stated that the foundation violated the "principle of selflessness" by collecting donations and financing the "WikiLeaks" project.

Under the "principle of selflessness (§ 55 AO)", a foundation may not primarily pursue economic (commercial) purposes, but can only use the money to further their own goals. The withdrawal of the charitable status by the fiscal authorities is difficult to understand for two reasons. First, the tax office had not received any accounting records from the year 2010 at all which would justify such a decision. Second, the RP Kassel as supervisory authority issued a press release [6] in early December that made it clear that the promotion of WikiLeaks is in accordance to the statutes of the Foundation.

Perhaps this is why the fiscal authorities in Hamburg, which inherited the controversial procedure after the relocation of the Foundation, changed the reasoning and pursued the case as a "violation of the principle of immediacy (ยง 57 AO)" instead.

Auditing and legal procedure

The WHF commissioned a law firm specializing in foundation and tax law to represent their interests and put an objection against the decision [7]. In subsequent proceedings, there was an audit of whether the Foundation had met the "requirement of immediacy" in 2010; the question of whether the foundation spent its money according to its statutes was no longer in dispute.

The "principle of immediacy" allows a non-profit organization to engage auxiliary staff to achieve its goals, but requires that it must establish traceable and binding control procedures.

In late 2009 and early 2010 the WHF had negotiated oral agreements with the "WikiLeaks" project; these arrangements were written down in a contract with a WikiLeaks project manager at the end of 2010. The written contract defined the objectives, responsibilities and the control processes for receiving money from the foundation. Although the spirit of said contract had been adhered to by all parties involved throughout the entirety of 2010 the the tax office did not acknowledge that the immediacy had been [ upheld ?] preserved and rejected our appeal against the decision after an 18 month audit [8].

In order to finally bring an end to these proceedings after all the lengthy deliberation, the WHF agreed with the tax office in Hamburg not to further appeal against this rejection [9] and was thus able to have the charitable status reinstated.