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Wikimedia UK trustee quits amid conflict-of-interest row

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The IT consultant at the centre of the latest UK Wikipedia scandal has resigned his position as a trustee of the £1m charity Wikimedia UK.

The UK chapter's board issued a statement confirming the resignation of Roger Bamkin on Thursday evening. Bamkin is a director of the charity and was, until April, its chairman.

Bamkin had signed a private commercial contract with the government of Gibraltar – and then appeared to have used his position to promote articles about Gibraltar on Wikipedia's front page.

The story highlighted the close-knit group of friends and business associates at the helm of the charity that promotes Wikipedia in the UK. Under UK law, its trustees are forbidden from using the charity for personal gain, or promoting political causes. Wikipedia volunteers concerned that WMUK would lose its newly won charity status threatened court action to remove Bamkin from the board.

The charity's board announced Bamkin's resignation and the appointment of a solicitor, Saad Choudri. Choudri had received 34 votes in the most recent board election (to Bamkin's earlier 47) and his platform highlighted the charity's role in "leading the charge" against copyright enforcement legislation.

The core Wikimedia UK group defended Bamkin, and greeted criticisms with scorn and insults. But it has failed to quell the criticism.

"Thanks, WMUK, but it's not enough," wrote one editor, Lexein. "This does nothing to a) address the public perception of Wikimedia/Wikipedia's ability to police itself (follow both the letter and spirit of all pillar/policy/guideline), or b) repair the damage done to Wikipedia's credibility and reputation.

"Wikipedia's core activity is to document, and not to serve, entities and individuals. I would rather lose some random pet project, than have Wikipedia suffer any further loss of credibility, public confidence, or independence."

"Could we drop the ad hominem crap and the paranoia, and simply address the horrific public relations and ethics problems we have here?" asked long-time Wikipedia adminstrator Michael Lowery, aka Orange Mike. "It's a genuine concern for many of us who spend time and energy we don't have to spare."

A former Wikimedian diplomatically reverts an edit on your humble hack's Wikipedia page

Former WMUK chairman Ashley Van Haeften - he resigned last month after it was revealed he was banned from editing the English-language Wikipedia - said the board had written to the charity commission before the scandal broke "for their comments on our approach, and are awaiting their reply".

Thanks to aggressive appeals for donations, Wikimedia has grown substantially in recent years. In 2006 it declared net assets of $1.004m, but by 2010 this had swelled to $24.19m. It currently estimates net assets to be $30.7m. That's a lot of cash to spread around the local chapters, and only the start of renewed scrutiny for the officers of the charity. ®

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