WAMY-Canada stripped of charitable status
NOTE: The article below is an updated internet version of the paper copy. Some information at the end of this article was added after the article was printed. Titles for both versions differ slightly.
Author: Sarah Boesveld
Source: The National Post, March 7, 2012, p. A1
Original title (internet): Canadian Muslim youth group tied to al-Qaeda stripped of charitable status
A Canadian Muslim youth organization has been stripped of its charitable status after a Canada Revenue Agency investigation linked it to a Saudi-based group that allegedly financed Islamist terror campaigns.
An audit of the World Assembly of Muslim Youth revealed the charity had developed ties to a number of organizations that allegedly helped fund al-Qaeda operations around the world and failed to comply with a number of standards required for charities to maintain their status.
In a warning letter to the Toronto-area organization last summer, CRA director-general Cathy Hawara said “our analysis of the Organization’s operations has led the CRA to believe…[it] was established to support the goals and operations of its parent organization, located in Saudi Arabia, which has been alleged to support terrorism.”
WAMY, known in Canada for running Islamic camps and pilgrimages for youth, was stripped of its status on Feb. 11. It failed to keep proper books and records, maintain a specific charitable purpose and distinguish itself from parent organization WAMY (Saudi Arabia), which had been alleged to support terrorist activity, the CRA audit said.
“The audit findings did not reveal any apparent separation between the activities of WAMY (Saudi Arabia) and WAMY, with all related financial and operating positions being made by WAMY (Saudi Arabia),” it reads. “This leads to a reasonable inference that WAMY has little or no independent function; therefore it cannot be concluded that it is carrying out its own charitable activities for which it is registered.”
WAMY in Canada also appears to have a director, contact information and bank account in common with the Benevolence International Fund in Canada, whose assets were frozen by the Canadian government in 2002 because it was linked to attempts by Osama bin Laden to acquire nuclear and chemical weapons. WAMY, which had been inactive since at least 2005, also funnelled $50,246 to the Benevolence International Foundation (BIF) in the U.S. in 2001 to boost its orphan program, the audit reads.
Both BIF-Canada and BIF-USA were added to the Consolidated List of the United Nations Security Council’s al-Qaeda and Taliban Sanctions committee in November, 2002, for having specific ties to al-Qaeda.
Under the heading of “Adverse Reporting on WAMY and its Affiliates,” the Canadian government audit cites testimony by counter-terrorism consultants before a U.S. Senate committee that says bin Laden identified three Muslim charities, including WAMY, as the “primary sources of al-Qaeda financial and fundraising activity” back in 1993.
The testimony went on to say these three organizations laundered money originating from bank accounts belonging to bin Laden and his associates in the Arabian Gulf, provided entertainment and travel documents to al-Qaeda operatives around the world and helped move funds to areas where al-Qaeda was operating.
Ties between WAMY and the BIF were inextricably close, even involving some of the same members, the CRA audit alleges: Mohamed Khatib was president of WAMY in 1999-2000, the same period of time he was listed as secretary to BIF-Canada, according to tax and government documents. The mailing address on WAMY’s November, 1998, application for charitable registration and documents submitted to Industry Canada when BIF-Canada incorporated in May 2000 matched up —both were Mr. Khatib’s home address, the CRA said.
The shared director between BIF-Canada and BIF-USA, Enaam Arnaout, pleaded guilty to racketeering charges a decade ago, admitting in his plea agreement that the “charity had provided financial assistance to individuals engaged in violent activities overseas,” the audit reads.
“Charities have to remember their obligations under Canada’s anti-terrorism legislation,” the CRA’s paper on guidance for activities outside of Canada reads. “As with all individuals and organizations in Canada, charities are responsible for making sure they do not operate in association with individuals or groups that are engaged in terrorist activities or support terrorist activities.”
In 2003, counter-terrorism officials in the U.S. said the WAMY organization there had been founded by bin Laden’s nephew Abdullah. Canada’s branch, which had an office in Mississauga, Ont., was operating under the supervision of the U.S. wing, according to the group’s own literature.
Toronto charity lawyer Mark Blumberg applauded the CRA for its thoroughness when it comes to auditing charities and revoking their status, if need be, but he says more can be done to prevent mismanagement of charities with respect to terrorism ties or money laundering.
“People think that because CRA approves an application that that means the registered charity is a wonderful organization and that it will not stray or do anything that’s wrong,” he said. “In fact all the CRA’s really doing is making sure all of the objects and activities and the information provided in an application is appropriate in terms of it being a registered charity.”