Islamic Relief Worldwides 2014 Internal Investigation
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- On June 19, 2014, Israel’s Minister of Defense signed a warrant declaring the NGO Islamic Relief Worldwide (IRW) illegal, based on its alleged role in funneling money to Hamas. IRW was banned from operating in Israel and the West Bank. (Israel had previously accused IRW of assisting Hamas, a proscribed terrorist organization in the UK.)
- IRW’s 2013 Annual Report lists audited revenues of £83 million and non-audited revenues of £173 million from the “global family,” with over £10 million in government funding and more than £16 million voluntary income from UK donations.
- In September 2014, IRW announced that it would not accept funds from the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) Gaza Crisis Appeal pending an internal investigation prompted by the allegations, although it continued to function in Gaza during this time. (DEC is an umbrella group of 13 British charities associated with providing humanitarian aid and disaster relief.)
- On December 12, 2014 IRW announced it had commissioned an “independent investigation” that found “absolutely no evidence of any links with terrorism” and that “not one of these many audits over many years has found a shred of evidence that Islamic Relief funds terrorism or has terrorist links anywhere in the world.”
- In a statement to the media, Israel’s General Security Service (Shin Bet) said it could not respond to IRW’s announcement “without an in-depth examination of [the audit’s] findings, its scope or who it was carried out by.” It claimed the Israeli government’s decision to declare IRW illegal was “based on information that has been accumulated over years, that the fund is a central player in financing of Hamas… [and] on accumulated knowledge and experience in fighting terror and financing of terror organizations.”
Lack of Investigation by the Charity Commission
- Following the accusations of funding terror organizations, IRW submitted a serious incident report to the Charities Commission in June 2014 and began an internal audit.
- Although the Charity Commission has investigated other charities based on serious incident reports or concerns about misapplication of funds, it did not investigate IRW. The Commission issued no special advisory regarding donations to IRW; rather, a Charity Commission spokeswoman said that “it was satisfied that the charity was responding appropriately to the incident.”
- According to the UK’s Department for Internal Development (DFID) website, IRW received £1.25 million in government funding in 2013. This was as part of a 4-year, £5 million grant for non-country-specific strategic funding (information last updated on July 15, 2014). According to the BBC, IRW received £3.2m from the DFID in 2013.
- On June 20, 2014 NGO Monitor sent a freedom of information (FOI) request to DFID’s Information Rights and Public Enquiries. The request asked for information regarding mechanisms used to ensure that UK funding for or cooperation with IRW has not been linked to terrorist activities or incitement to violence. The request also asked for official documentation, reports, or evaluations on this issue. (Freedom of Information Request F2014¬260)
- On July 18, 2014, NGO Monitor’s request was denied. DFID claimed that “in this case the public interest in withholding the information outweighs the public interest in disclosing it.”
IRW Internal Investigation and Results
- On December 12, 2014, IRW announced it had commissioned an “independent investigation” that found “absolutely no evidence of any links with terrorism” and that “not one of these many audits over many years has found a shred of evidence that Islamic Relief funds terrorism or has terrorist links anywhere in the world.”
- IRW’s statement claims that it has “shared its findings in full with a number of major stakeholders.”
- The identity of these “stakeholders” was not divulged, although the DEC, an umbrella group of 13 UK charities including IRW, responded in a statement to the press that “The DEC has considered the independent audit report which reviewed Islamic Relief’s operations in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.…We are satisfied that Islamic Relief has robust systems in place to ensure aid money is properly accounted for and spent appropriately.”
- Mohamed Ashmawey, Chief Executive Officer of IRW, also sits on the DEC board of trustees, and in a possible conflict of interest according to the guidelines of the Charity Commission, DEC’s Chief Executive, Saleh Saeed, formerly served as CEO of Islamic Relief.
- IRW’s audit claims are impossible to verify and demonstrate a severe lack of transparency. It has not published the full report or even named the group that conducted the audit. The public is unable to ascertain the extent of the investigation, or analyze the methodology or process by which the audit came to its conclusions and results.
Issues from IRW’s 2012 and 2013 Annual Reports
- IRW’s 2013 Annual Report lists audited revenues of £83 million and non-audited revenues of £173 million from the “global family.” However the Report does not identify the entities that comprise the unaudited global family nor explain how funds flow between the IRW and these unaudited entities.
- It is unknown whether IRW’s internal investigation extended to these unaudited organizations.
- The 2012 and 2013 Annual Reports itemize revenue by country, but do not specify spending amounts per country. Reports also itemize categories of services (i.e. access to water and healthcare, caring for orphans, etc.), but do not list funding amounts for services directed to specific areas, such as Hamas-controlled Gaza.
The information provided by IRW on its internal investigation is insufficient to assess the veracity of its claims. NGO Monitor recommends that a fully independent, transparent, and comprehensive audit of IRW’s international activities and funding mechanisms be undertaken immediately.
Considering the seriousness of allegations against IRW and its acceptance of UK taxpayer funds, NGO Monitor further recommends that the British Charity Commission conduct a thorough review of IRW, in cooperation with the Israeli and other relevant authorities.