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FRAUD COPS PROBE CHARITY'S MRS BIG; Bankrupt kicked off playscheme for autistic kids.

A MOTHER of five is being investigated by fraud squad detectives after being kicked off a charity for disabled children.

Crown Office officials have banned Georgina Riva, 38, from all charity work and asked police to investigate alleged financial irregularities in the disabled playgroup.

And today the Sunday Mail can reveal she should never have been involved in running a charity - because she was declared bankrupt by a sheriff in 1997.

Mrs Riva was the director of Edinburgh Autistic Playschemes, which received thousands of pounds in charitable donations.

These included pounds 5000 from Children In Need in November 1998, pounds 2449 from the National Lottery Charity Board in May 1997 and pounds 3060 from the Lloyds-TSB Foundation in June 1999.

But detectives will now sift through the charity's accounts to establish who paid for:

A blue Jaguar XJ6 sports car used by her husband Lawrence, with the private registration plate, RIVA G.

A holiday in Florida with her five children and her sister in February 1997.

A trip to plush Stobo Castle health resort, near Peebles, with a friend in 1998.

Police will also investigate claims that Mrs Riva, who has two autistic sons and a third boy who is severely disabled, applied for money from a charitable trust using another disabled group's headed stationery.

It is illegal to run a charity while bankrupt and Mrs Riva remained sequestrated until July this year, after her business, Aeroskip Sports Limited, folded. It is understood the firm packaged skipping ropes.

A spokeswoman at the Office of the Accountant in Bankruptcy said Mrs Riva was advised at the time of the sequestration that she would be unable to hold any public offices, including any position with a charity.

A spokesman for the Crown Office confirmed the Scottish Charities Office had carried out an investigation into Edinburgh Autistic Playscheme.

He added: "Mrs Riva was taken to court for misconduct and mismanagement and suspended from acting for the charity. A factor was appointed to handle the charity's dealings."

He declined to name the factor, a chartered accountant who will assess the charity's assets, if any, with a view to deciding if the organisation should or could continue.

A spokeswoman for Lothian and Borders Police confirmed an investigation was already underway.

When Mrs Riva was confronted at her home by the Sunday Mail, she would only say: "I have been advised by my lawyers not to say anything."

Signs of trouble first surfaced when Kirsteen Harding, a friend of Mrs Riva and a neighbour in Barntongate, Edinburgh, resigned as treasurer of the charity.

It is understood she was unhappy because she had seen no books, figures or financial details and did not recognise names of some other directors listed.

She said: "It sticks in everybody's craw that a family living in a housing association home are living such a lifestyle. It is time somebody looked into all this."

As well as the Jaguar, the family have a number of other expensive vehicles, including a Toyota 4x4 with registration S8 MUM and a Renault Espace, registration T8 MUM.

A spokesman for the Scottish Society for Autism said they were not connected with Mrs Riva.

He added: "A few years ago we heard she was setting up a playscheme, but heard no more about it. I don't know any parents who have sent children to this playscheme."

All playschemes which involve children under eight must register with the council. Edinburgh Council social work department said the playscheme was not registered with them.

The playscheme is a registered charity and is listed at an address on Edinburgh's Turnhouse Road, where Lawrence Riva has a small office for his video-making firm, Starcliff Ltd.
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Author:Douglas, Scott; Rafferty, Stephen
Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Sep 10, 2000
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