As one of the major funders of World Vision, Australia has been a central aspect of the story behind the allegations that a World Vision employee diverted $50 million to Hamas. Media coverage in The Australian newspaper has, likewise, played an important role in the public debate.
On June 15, 2016, Mohammad El-Halabi, the manager of operations for World Vision in Gaza, was arrested by Israeli authorities. On August 4, after 50 days in administrative detention, El -Halabi was revealed by the Shabak, the Israeli security agency, to be a Hamas terrorist. He is accused of diverting approximately 60% of the World Vision’s Gaza budget to the terrorist organization to build tunnels and fund other terrorist activity. The siphoned funds amount to approximately $50 million.
In its statement, World Vision explained that they were “shocked” to learn of these charges and stated that, “The funds entrusted to us are spent…in ways that do not fuel conflict but rather contribute to peace.”
Following the allegations against and arrest of El-Halabi, the Australian government announced the suspension of funding to World Vision projects in the Palestinian territories.
As a result of the indictment, World Vision cancelled its Gaza project and laid off, at least temporarily, 120 employees from the office.
The Australian has published a series of articles about the arrest and trial, citing NGO Monitor research throughout. Below are excerpts from some of the main articles:
Federal World Vision funding ‘went to Hamas’, November 28, 2016
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.
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 “finan¬cial, administrative and other records for the group” within 18 days.
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.
World Vision charity dismissed Hamas funds link, November 29, 2016
The first day of Mr Halabi’s trial is due to start today in the ¬Israeli city of Beersheba, with the now-jailed former World Vision executive accused by Israel’s government of ¬siphoning $US43 million ($57.5m) to Hamas in Gaza since 2010. The Australian understands an accountant working for World Vision Gaza made the allegations against Mr Halabi — who had been the accountant’s boss — after the accountant was stood down from the aid ¬organisation.
The case is particularly relevant locally because, as revealed by The Australian yesterday, the Australian government has been the single biggest donor to World Vision’s operations in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza since Mr Halabi became the charity’s Gaza head.
The Australian understands the World Vision accountant was stood down last year due to a change in the laws governing NGO employees in Gaza. He subsequently raised the allegations of fraud involving Mr Halabi with World Vision, which launched an internal investigation. In the subsequent weeks World Vision’s East Jerusalem offices were raided by several dozen heavily armed Israeli ¬security officers.
World Vision hazy on how it spent Gaza cash, December 6, 2016
Investigations by The Australian show the poor transparency of World Vision’s operations in the region, with the agency ¬appearing to publish no breakdowns of where or how funds are spent. For the year to September 2015, World Vision Australia reported $4.786m “disbursed” to “Jerusalem/West Bank/Gaza” without any further information.
The Australian has now ¬obtained, through the Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor, a document filed by World Vision Israel with a local charity regulator, containing curious entries for expenditures, including “drawing a smile on children” and “South Gaza transformed families”.
Only in recent months — after the Israeli regulator on June 26 threatened World Vision Israel with “dissolution” — was the document provided.
The document is not properly labelled, but appears to be a banking or cashflow statement from December 2012. Entries include “more enjoyable learning” alongside the figure 196,138.14, understood to be Israeli shekels, each worth 35c, amounting to $68,648.
Millions of dollars spent by World Vision Australia each year in Gaza and the West Bank — much of it federal government cash — are almost entirely hidden from public scrutiny, which has added fuel to claims a former executive there funnelled millions to the Hamas terrorist group.
The Australian has sought to investigate the cash flows from World Vision Australia to World Vision in Gaza, and examine how World Vision spends money in the West Bank and Gaza. But public information is almost non-existent. World Vision Australia publishes only a single figure for the total amount of money it sends to World Vision Jerusalem/West Bank/Gaza each year while World Vision Jerusalem/West Bank/Gaza provides no public breakdown of spending.
Jerusalem-based advocacy group NGO Monitor has long called on World Vision to release information about where it spends its money in the region, raising concerns it could be used for nefarious activities if not properly scrutinised.
The Australian government was unable to provide The Australian with any information about where taxpayer dollars were spent in the region via World ¬Vision, other than to provide total figures for its annual spend.