World Vision ‘Shocked’ After Charity Head Accused of Funding Hamas
5 August 2016 at 9:57 am
Staff at World Vision have been left “puzzled, shocked, demoralised and confused” after Israel has charged the head of World Vision in Gaza with funnelling millions of dollars to the Palestinian militant group Hamas.
The manager of operations for World Vision in Gaza, Mohammad El Halabi, appeared before a court local time on Thursday following 50 days in Israeli state detention, facing charges of using millions of charity funds to pay Hamas fighters and buy weapons.
The Australian Government has given the charity over $5 million in the past three years for projects in the Gaza Strip. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has now suspended the provision of funding to World Vision in the Palestinian territories.
CEO of World Vision International Kevin Jenkins said, in a statement released Monday, that the organisation was still “trying to understand the truth behind the allegations”.
“World Vision condemns any diversion of funds from any humanitarian organisation and strongly condemns any act of terrorism or support for those activities,” Jenkins said.
“We first learned of the accusations last Thursday… when the charges were officially presented for the first time.
“Due to the seriousness of the allegations, World Vision has already suspended operations in Gaza.
“We are conducting a full review, including an externally conducted forensic audit, and will remain fully engaged with the investigation that is underway.”
Israeli intelligence agency Shin Bet said Halabi took over operations in 2010 and, since that time, diverted around 60 per cent of World Vision’s annual budget in the territory – US$7.2 million a year (A$9.4 million) – to Hamas. The agency also claimed Hamas recruited Halabi more than a decade ago
However, World Vision cast doubt over the validity of the allegations.
“World Vision’s cumulative operating budget in Gaza for the past ten years was approximately US$22.5 million (A$29.4 million), which makes the alleged amount of up to US$50 million (A$65.3 million) being diverted hard to reconcile,” Jenkins said.
“Mohammad El Halabi was the manager of our Gaza operations only since October 2014, before that time he managed only portions of the Gaza budget.
“World Vision’s accountability processes cap the amount individuals in management positions at his level to a signing authority of US$15,000 (A$19,600).”
He said if the allegations were proven to be true World Vision would take “swift and decisive action”, but called for a fair judicial process.
“Unfortunately, we still have not seen any of the evidence,” he said.
“We look forward to an ongoing dialogue to be able to clarify discrepancies, and we call for a fair and transparent legal process.”
Speaking on ABC after the charges against Halabi were first presented,, World Vision Australia chief executive officer Tim Costello said the staff on the ground were “utterly mystified”.
“Our national director was in court with Mohammed yesterday when the charges were being laid, utterly mystified because all of our audits are absolutely clean,” Costello said.
“The latest PWC audit has just come in. Staff are really puzzled, shocked, demoralised, confused. This, for them, doesn’t add up.”
Costello said World Vision was working with DFAT to get to the bottom of the allegations and supported its suspension of funds.
“It is always the innocent that suffer,” he said.
“The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade have done the right thing. I would be doing that too when you have such serious charges, you should suspend it until there is an investigation.
“Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade go into Gaza, they’ve looked at our work, they’ve assessed our work.
“Gaza is such a flashpoint, it is why we are particularly careful there and I’ve been in Gaza when DFAT officials have been there also looking at our work so this is what is so mystifying, this is what, for me, doesn’t add up with these charges and why I want to get to the bottom of it and we’re working very cooperatively with DFAT on that.”
A DFAT spokesperson told AAP it was investigating the matter.
“Any diversion of the generous support of the Australian and international community for military or terrorist purposes by Hamas is to be deplored and can only harm the Palestinian people,” the spokesperson said.
World Vision Jerusalem-West Bank-Gaza released a statement local time on Thursday on Halabi’s arrest: “On 15 June 2016, Mohammad El Halabi, the manager of operations for World Vision in Gaza, was arrested on his way home from routine meetings.
“On the 4 August 2016 date, after 50 days in Israeli state detention, Mohammad was charged with providing support to Hamas. World Vision was shocked to learn of these charges against Mohammad.”
The organisation said it had detailed procedures and control mechanisms to ensure funds were used according to legal requirements.
“World Vision programs in Gaza have been subject to regular internal and independent audits, independent evaluations, and a broad range of internal controls aimed at ensuring that assets reach their intended beneficiaries and are used in compliance with applicable laws and donor requirements,” the statement said.