The Australian government has been one of the biggest funders of the Hamas terror organisation in Gaza over the past seven years, Israeli authorities allege.
In August, the head of World Vision Gaza, Mohammad El Halabi, was charged with infiltrating the charity in 2010 on behalf of Hamas. The Israeli government alleges he funnelled $US43 million to the proscribed terror outfit in that time.
The Australian can reveal that since 2010, the Australian government has been the world’s single biggest donor to World Vision in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza (JWG), through AusAID and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. World Vision Australia bids for funding from the federal government for the organisation’s projects overseas.
According to the Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor, its analysis of World Vision’s accounts between 2010, when Mr Halabi became World Vision’s Gaza head, and 2014 shows Australia contributed $27.9m to World Vision JWG, followed by the US which gave $US16.8m ($22.5m), Canada with $US15.4m ($20.7m) and Britain with $US724,000 ($973,000).
The Israeli arm of World Vision, World Vision Israel, known as an “amuta” or non-profit organisation, has been threatened with being wound up by an arm of Israel’s Ministry of Justice for repeatedly failing to file financial documents for almost two years.
In August, Tim Costello, then World Vision Australia chief executive, said he was “profoundly shocked” by the “very explosive allegations”. However, he said he had “no reason to believe” the allegations against Mr Halabi were true.
Sources from Israel’s state security agency Shin Bet previously have told The New York Times there is no evidence World Vision management was aware of the alleged major fraud, but that it had occurred because of very lax financial oversight at the organisation.
World Vision has strenuously denied this, saying it has extremely well-audited programs, and that all its accounts are audited by international accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers.
It said it had also engaged a separate international forensic accountancy firm to audit World Vision’s operations in Gaza.
Shin Bet has said the alleged World Vision siphoning of cash and materials was the biggest known fraud involving a non-government organisation’s funds flowing to Hamas, and that the money had been used to build tunnels from Gaza to Israel with a view to conducting terror attacks.
Shin Bet also has alleged World Vision donations were used to build a Hamas military base, and food packages intended for families in need instead went to Hamas military battalions.
Hamas has controlled Gaza since 2007.
However, despite the Israeli government’s claims that Mr Halabi siphoned about $US43m from World Vision to Hamas — about 60 per cent of World Vision’s Gaza funding at that time — it is understood Mr Halabi’s charge sheet makes no reference to that figure and has few specific allegations.
Some other Jerusalem-based aid organisations The Australian has spoken with are very sceptical of the allegations and see them as a cynical move by Israel to crack down on aid funding to Gaza.
They point out Mr Halabi was arrested on June 15 but was not charged until August 4; that the charge sheet contains only very limited specific allegations; and that Mr Halabi has a very good reputation in the aid community.
“To date we are yet to see any substantive evidence to support the charges made by the Israeli authorities,” a World Vision spokeswoman said yesterday.
Following Mr Halabi’s arrest, World Vision suspended its operations in Gaza. The day after he was charged, on August 5, Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade froze all funding to the group.
Australia’s ambassador to Israel, Dave Sharma, described the allegations against Mr Halabi as “deeply troubling” and said the suspension would continue pending the outcome of a DFAT review. Late last week, a DFAT spokeswoman said the investigation and freeze continued.
The Australian has obtained, via NGO Monitor, documents filed with the Israeli Registrar of Non-Profits.
The documents show the registrar, with the assistance of an external accountancy firm, began an audit of World Vision Israel in August 2014 and requested the Jerusalem-registered entity provide documents detailing the “financial, administrative and other records for the group” within 18 days.
Despite six further letters and warnings from the registrar and the accounting firm over the 16 months to December last year, World Vision Israel failed to produce the documents, and later provided documents that were incomplete or not in an appropriate format.
On June 26, the registrar sent another letter to World Vision Israel, warning the entity would be dissolved if it continued to fail to meet the registrar’s requests.
The relevant documents since had been filed with the registrar, a World Vision spokeswoman said. Neither World Vision Israel, nor any other World Vision entities in the region, had been dissolved at any stage, she said.