Israeli authorities announced on August 4 that they had arrested Mohammed El-Halabi, the manager of operations in the Gaza branch of the international charity World Vision on suspicion of using his position to funnel millions of dollars to the terrorist organisation Hamas. In fact, he is alleged to have diverted 60% of World Vision’s annual budget for Gaza to Hamas, representing about US$7.2 million each year.
Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) has announced it is suspending funding to World Vision for programs in the Palestinian territories pending an investigation of the allegations.
World Vision International and World Vision Australia have both released statements expressing their shock at the arrest. They also pointed toward the oversight they have in their programs, proclaiming their confidence in their audit processes. World Vision Australia CEO Tim Costello went so far as to cast strong doubt on Israel’s allegations, stating:
“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. Based on the information available to us at this time, we have no reason to believe that the allegations are true. We will carefully review any evidence presented to us and will take appropriate actions based on that evidence.”
However, Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs put out a detailed statement giving both particulars of the allegations and a description of the methods used to carry out the alleged fraud. Furthermore, it sets out a series of admissions El-Halabi is alleged to have made under cross-examination.
El-Halabi is alleged to have admitted to joining Hamas in his youth, and been planted with World Vision by the terrorist group, having worked his way up the ranks until he controlled the multi-million dollar budget, equipment and aid packages.
The specific allegations against him include:
• Promoting fictitious agricultural associations as cover for transfers to Hamas;
• Transferring money to Hamas members fraudulently registered as employees of charity-sponsored projects;
• Issuing inflated invoices and fictitious receipts with the excess being transferred to Hamas;
• Issuing fictitious tenders for work to be done for World Vision, with the “winning” tenderer to transfer 60% of funds received to Hamas;
• Transferring directly to Hamas equipment and aid packages provided by World Vision;
• Initiating a greenhouse project to use the greenhouses to hide the sites of terror tunnels;
• Disguising Hamas warehouses as World Vision warehouses so Hamas could take materials delivered to them;
• Diverting money for injured children to Hamas terrorists who fraudulently listed their own children as wounded; and
• Diverting unemployment benefits to Hamas terrorists.
Obviously, these are all only allegations until proven in court.
As mentioned, World Vision proclaimed its faith in its audit processes, but this would be far from the first time frauds of this sort have escaped the notice of internal, or even external, auditors. For example, in a recent example close to home, in February this year, the Victorian State Director of the Liberal Party, Damian Mantach, pled guilty to having embezzled approximately AU$1.5 million from the party. This was achieved by invoicing the party and MPs for work that was never done, or at inflated costs.
Prior to the discovery of the fraud, a financial comptroller from KPMG had been installed in the party to investigate over spending on campaigns, but had reported that no fraud had been discovered, following which, the embezzlement continued.