Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Charity used 'terror' group to distribute aid in Gaza

Richard Kerbaj | July 02, 2008

A SYDNEY charity has admitted channelling aid into the Palestinian territories through an Islamic organisation banned by Australia and the US for its alleged links to terrorism.

Muslim Aid Australia has used Interpal - an organisation proscribed by former foreign affairs minister Alexander Downer and declared a "specially designated global terrorist" organisation by US President George W. Bush in 2003 - to distribute medical aid in Gaza.

Interpal is a British-based humanitarian group also known as the Palestinian Relief and Development Fund. It has been cleared of terror links by the British Charity Commission but failed three years ago to have itsproscribed listing revoked in Australia, when lawyers for the group unsuccessfully petitioned Mr Downer.

When informed of MAA's relationship with Interpal, the Department of Foreign Affairs indicated it might refer the case for investigation. The Australian Federal Police last night refused to confirm or deny whether inquiries were already under way.

It is a criminal offence under the Charter of the United Nations Act for Australian individuals or organisations to deal with groups identified by DFAT's Consolidated List, which names banned groups and people. Breaching the act can result in a maximum 10-year prison sentence and fines of more than $275,000 for individuals and more than $1.1million for organisations, DFAT says.

Interpal was accused by the US Treasury Department in 2003 of using its global humanitarian missions as a "cover" for generating money on behalf of the Palestinian terror group Hamas. It has previously denied links to Hamas. A spokesperson for Interpal failed to return calls from The Australian or respond to a list of emailed questions.

MAA executive director Iman Partoredjo issued a statement admitting to using Interpal to deliver medical aid to the Palestinian territories earlier this year to negotiate the Israeli Defence Force's "protracted border closures" of Gaza.

"Tight control over trans-shipping of aid by the IDF saw our medical aid items delivered and distributed by those able to be 'on the ground', such as UN agencies and local NGOs, eg United National Relief and Work Agency ... Interpal, Families Relief, etc," the statement reads.

MAA is a non-profit company and registered charity based in Haldon Street, Lakemba, in Sydney's west. It has five principal directors: Indonesian-born Mr Partoredjo, Iraqi-born Mohammed Taha Alsalami, Indian-born Riyaad Ahmed, Australian-born Anjum Rafiqi, and Hassan Vakili, born in Iran.

Dr Alsalami, a former member of John Howard's Muslim Community Reference Group, last night told The Australian he was not aware that Interpal was a proscribed organisation or that MAA had used Interpal to distribute aid.

"I am just amazed. How can any Australian-registered organisation deal with anyone you know who is not popular or banned by Australia?" he said.

Dr Alsalami said he was not aware of MAA's "day-to-day" operations but defended MAA, saying the body would not have been aware that Interpal was banned in Australia. "If I am aware I would object to that, of course," he said.

In its most recent newsletter, MAA said it had delivered almost $800,000 in "direct aid" to 42,000 people in Gaza for food and other necessities.

In a fundraising advertisement for the Emergency Appeal Gaza Crises that appeared on MAA's website as recently as last night, Interpal's logo is displayed below the emblems of MAA and Muslim Aid (UK). An internal news memo on Muslim Aid UK's website discusses the connection between Interpal and MAA.

"Working in partnership with Interpal, Muslim Aid and Muslim Aid Australia is asking you to make a difference to the lives of those isolated from the world by the conflict," the web page says.

"We urgently need help in raising pound stg. 5million for Palestine - for food, fuel and medical supplies."

Interpal describes itself as a "non-political, non-profits-making British charity that works with international funding and partners and partners on the ground to provide relief and development aid to Palestinians".

It was twice investigated and cleared by the British Charity Commission - in 1996 and 2003 - of any links to terrorism.

Yet in Australia, organisations and individuals named on DFAT's Consolidated List are considered to be associated with terrorism under UN Security Council Resolution 1373.

While Foreign Affairs Minister Stephen Smith could not be contacted for comment, a DFAT spokeswoman said Australia was obliged under the UN Resolution to "prevent terrorist financing and freeze terrorist assets".

It is also a criminal offence to "directly or indirectly make assets available to a proscribed person or entity", she said.

Mr Downer added Interpal to DFAT's Consolidated List on November 21, 2003, three months after the US Bush administration proscribed the British-based body after deeming it a "part of a web of charities" raising funds and co-ordinating fundraisers on behalf of Hamas.

The US Treasury Department revealed on August 22, 2003, that Interpal "has been a principal charity utilised to hide the flow of money to Hamas".

"Interpal is the fundraising co-ordinator of Hamas."

According to the US Treasury Department's Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons list, dated last month, Interpal is known by13 other names, including al-Sanduq Al-Filistini Lil-Ighatha and the Welfare and Development Fund of Palestine.

Source: The Australian

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