Assist employee held in Israel for six years insists he’s harmless

JERUSALEM (AP) — Nearly six years after Israel accused Mohammed el-Halabi of diverting tens of tens of millions of {dollars} from a world charity to Gaza’s militant Hamas rulers, he has but to be convicted in an Israeli courtroom and continues to be being held in detention.

World Vision — a significant Christian charity that operates around the globe — in addition to unbiased auditors and the Australian authorities have discovered no proof of any wrongdoing. El-Halabi’s lawyer says he has rejected a number of plea bargains that will have allowed him to stroll free years in the past. Closing arguments led to September.

The prosecution has requested one other listening to Monday to increase his detention.

The explosive allegations resemble these made in opposition to six Palestinian rights teams final yr. In every case, Israel publicly accused organizations of ties to militant teams with out offering a lot proof, sending shudders by way of their donors and companions and main some to chop ties.

Critics say Israel typically depends on questionable informants. They allege that Israel smears teams that present support or different assist to Palestinians so as to shore up its practically 55-year army occupation of lands the Palestinians need for a future state.

Lior Haiat, a spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, mentioned Israel stands by the allegations in opposition to el-Halabi, that are “well established and rely on concrete evidence.” He mentioned the protection had intentionally extended the trial after the prosecution rested in May 2018, allegations rejected by el-Halabi’s lawyer.

“Israel does not aim to intimidate (non-governmental organizations), nor to keep them from operating in Gaza,” Haiat mentioned. “But we definitely aim to prevent transfer of NGO money that should be helping the people of Gaza in to the hands of a terror organization like Hamas.”

After el-Halabi’s arrest, World Vision suspended its actions in Gaza, the place over 2 million Palestinians dwell beneath an Israeli-Egyptian blockade imposed when Hamas seized energy practically 15 years in the past. Israel says the restrictions are wanted to comprise Hamas, whereas critics view them as a type of collective punishment.

World Vision mentioned its whole Gaza price range over the earlier 10 years was $22.5 million, making the alleged diversion of $50 million “hard to reconcile.” El-Halabi had been appointed supervisor of its Gaza operations in October 2014, lower than two years earlier than he was arrested.

World Vision labored with a number of Western donor international locations to assemble an unbiased audit. World Vision declined to call the auditors due to a non-disclosure settlement, however final yr the Guardian reported that it was undertaken by the worldwide accounting agency Deloitte and DLA Piper, a world legislation agency.

Brett Ingerman, a lawyer with DLA Piper who headed the investigation, confirmed its position within the audit. He mentioned a workforce of round a dozen attorneys, together with a number of former assistant U.S. attorneys, reviewed practically 300,000 emails and performed over 180 interviews. A forensic accounting agency scoured practically each monetary transaction at World Vision from 2010 till 2016, he mentioned.

In July 2017, they submitted an over 400-page report of their findings to World Vision, which shared it with donor governments. World Vision mentioned it provided the report back to Israel, however Israeli authorities refused to signal the non-disclosure settlement. The Foreign Ministry declined to touch upon the audit.

The report discovered no proof that el-Halabi was affiliated with Hamas or had diverted any funds. In truth, Ingerman mentioned it revealed the other.

“We had story after story of el-Halabi enforcing controls at World Vision and encouraging employees not to interact or transact with organizations that were even suspected of being affiliated with Hamas,” he mentioned.

The Australian authorities performed its personal overview, saying it discovered no proof any of its funding to World Vision within the Palestinian territories was diverted to Hamas. Australia was the most important single donor to World Vision’s humanitarian work in Gaza, offering some $4.4 million within the earlier three fiscal years, in accordance with its Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

World Vision, which operates in practically 100 international locations and yearly distributes some $2.5 billion in support, mentioned it totally helps el-Halabi. “We’re waiting here for an acquittal because it’s the only logical outcome,” mentioned Sharon Marshall, a spokeswoman for the group.

“It’s far past time for him to be home with his family.”

Maher Hanna, el-Halabi’s protection lawyer, mentioned Israeli authorities have provided him a number of plea bargains that will have allowed him to stroll free in alternate for pleading responsible to lesser prices, a routine tactic in trials of Palestinians.

“He is not willing to admit to things he didn’t do,” Hanna mentioned. The protection lawyer was allowed to see the labeled proof, which he declined to debate, saying solely that it was “extremely unreliable and problematic, and does not prove anything.”

Hanna additionally rejected any allegations of foot-dragging as “beyond unfair,” saying the courtroom scheduled periods months aside and made it tough for him to name witnesses, together with people named within the cost sheet.

He blamed Israel for the delay, saying it hoped to keep away from the embarrassment of high officers having publicized explosive false allegations. Then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had launched a video handle repeating the costs on the time, saying they proved he cared extra concerning the Palestinians than their very own leaders.

“If facts matter, he will be cleared. If facts don’t matter, he will be convicted,” Hanna mentioned.

Closing arguments wrapped up final September. El-Halabi continues to be being held in a jail in southern Israel.

“It makes a mockery of due process and the most basic fair trial notions to hold someone for nearly six years in pretrial detention based largely on secret evidence,” mentioned Omar Shakir, Israel and Palestine director on the New York-based Human Rights Watch.

Even if el-Halabi is acquitted, the ordeal might deter different support organizations from working within the Palestinian territories.

“We haven’t been able to respond to major needs in Gaza, and that’s where some of the world’s most vulnerable children are,” mentioned Marshall, the World Vision spokeswoman. “Other organizations that don’t have the organizational resources that we have to absorb a hit like this, they just can’t risk that kind of problem.”

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