Army veteran and Walking Wounded founder Brian Freeman at the end of his trek from Far North Queensland to southern Tasmania. (ABC News: Lauren Day)
Queensland police are investigating allegations that a charity set up to help Afghanistan war veterans was defrauded of $1.3 million.
The 7.30 program last night revealed concerns by some veterans and families of soldiers who died in Afghanistan that money donated to the charity, Walking Wounded, was not used for stated aims such as counselling and rehabilitation services.
In response to the story, the head of the Australian War Memorial has also called on the founder of Walking Wounded, Brian Freeman, to return a Roll of Honour listing the names of soldiers killed in the conflict.
7.30 can now also reveal that a detailed complaint against Mr Freeman and Walking Wounded was lodged with Queensland police in February.
Multiple complainants allege about $1.3 million was defrauded from the charity.
The Queensland Police Service has told 7.30 the matter is with the Fortitude Valley Criminal Investigation Branch (CIB) and “investigations are ongoing”.
Roll of Honour ‘should be returned’
7.30 also revealed that Brian Freeman still has a Roll of Honour presented to him by the Australian War Memorial in 2015 to help with fundraising for Walking Wounded.
“We were advised and understood it would be used for the Walking Wounded charity,” War Memorial director Brendan Nelson said.
Dr Nelson said now that the charity’s status had been revoked, and “in light of the revelations surrounding Mr Brian Freeman … [the Roll] should be returned to the Australian War Memorial.”
“The Memorial will make the necessary arrangements for a dignified return of the Roll of Honour should this be required,” he said.
“Our intent [was] always to hand back [the Roll of Honour] when the final 41 Poppies were laid at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier this year,” Mr Freeman said in his email to 7.30.
“Many veterans have carried or escorted the [Roll of Honour] on significant events.”
Mr Freeman said the War Memorial was aware that he still had the Roll of Honour because it agreed to replace the Roll after it was stolen in 2016.
Walking Wounded stripped of charity status
As well as promising a raft of support services, Walking Wounded took veterans and families of fallen soldiers on treks along the Kokoda Trail.
But last year, after an investigation triggered by complaints from the family of a fallen soldier and from a veteran, Walking Wounded was stripped of its charity status by the federal charities regulator.
Secrecy provisions in the act prevent the Australian Charities and Not-for-profit Commission (ACNC) from explaining why it revoked the status.
But 7.30 has seen both complaints, which alleged that no veterans had been helped with rehabilitation, counselling, or re-education, and that too much money had been spent on Mr Freeman’s treks and “adventures” to places such as Mount Everest.
Major sponsor Sunny Queen Eggs told 7.30 it ended its association with Walking Wounded in late 2016 after donating $300,000 in cash and in-kind support.
The company said it did so after becoming “increasingly uncomfortable with Mr Freeman’s lack of transparency in terms of how the funds raised were being utilised [and] with his increased focus on the adventure trekking side of things.”
Mr Freeman refused to talk to 7.30 or answer detailed questions about the administration of the charity and how donations were spent.
But in an email, Mr Freeman unequivocally denied he had not helped any veterans, saying Walking Wounded had “helped many” by taking them on treks to places like Kokoda.