Panorama on the Charity Commission Report on Interpal

Panorama really hits the nail on the head:

The much bigger question raised by the Commission’s report, however, is whether it is, in fact, capable of properly regulating a charity operating somewhere like Gaza and the West Bank.

In paragraph 60 of its report, the Commission acknowledged that the material presented to it “seemed to indicate that certain local partners funded by the Charity promoted terrorist ideology or activities amongst their beneficiaries.

However, the Inquiry could not verify to its satisfaction each of these item’s provenance or accuracy.

In order for the Inquiry to draw firm conclusions from the material, it would need proof that the material was found at particular identifiable local partners, and/or showed activities which could be proved to have been carried out at a particular identifiable partner, during a particular period of time.”

Indeed, the Commission, as regulator, appears to have absolved itself from the act of regulating, and seems content to pass that evidentiary responsibility completely to the regulated body, Interpal.

Although the Charity Commission has sabre rattled against Interpal – ordering it to end its links with the Hamas supporting network, the Union of Good – that’s as far as it has gone.  How much independent investigation the Charity Commission has conducted is not clear. My guess is: very little.

Which is pretty shocking, considering that Britain has certain obligations under EU law:

The European Union has, since 12 September 2003, designated Hamas (including its political wing) as one terrorist entity by EU regulation. On 22 September 2003, Hamas as a whole was designated by the UK Government.

This means it is also now a criminal offence to provide various forms of financial assistance to Hamas, as a whole, with no distinction made between its military and non-military wings, under EU and UK law.

The Foreign Office’s own website has acknowledged: “Hamas political wing is represented by charitable organizations which raise and remit funds for welfare purposes.”

However, although the American and German authorities have used the law to close down Interpal’s partner charities – who were funding the same charities in Gaza and the West Bank to which Interpal is still allowed to remit funds – the UK government clearly considers there is an absence here of high quality evidence.

This is a failure of regulation, of Financial Services Authority-like proportions, isn’t it? Now, it isn’t fair to lay the blame at the door of the Charity Commission, whose legal powers are limited. It does not, after all, have primary responsibility for enforcing the law in this area.

What is the reason for this failure? Here’s Panorama’s take:

During the Commission’s inquiry, a home office official is reported to have expressed concern that any adverse finding against Interpal that blocked funds might have a significant effect on community cohesion.

Over the years, Interpal has generated considerable support amongst some MPs, is venerated by virtually every Islamic organisation here and is relied upon by thousands of ordinary Muslim donors wishing to relieve hardship in Gaza and the West Bank.

The Commission is a non ministerial department of government and says it is independent of ministerial influence.

Interpal however appears to be claiming the semi-official imprimatur of government. Even while the charity was under investigation for links to Hamas in 2007, minutes from Interpal trustees say that a “delegation of Interpal Trustees met with officials from the British Embassy in Jordan and together paid a visit to many partner NGOs in the region.”

The minutes also mention a visit to Lebanon in August 2007 in which a “member of the British security agencies” joined them and “included a meeting with the British Ambassador and UNESCWA” – the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for West Asia.

Even so, the fact that a charity banned by several UK allies and under investigation at home was – apparently – given voluntary diplomatic services might now raise a few eyebrows.

It that is true, this really is a quite remarkable – and utterly scandalous – state of affairs.

What, precisely, was the threat to “community cohesion” envisaged by an adverse finding? It is suggested, from time to time, that the reason that the Government fails to crack down on those who encourage support for terrorism and other forms of political extremism, is that any confrontation with Islamists will trigger public disorder and worse. I have been sceptical about this argument. However, if that really is the Home Office’s concern, it is pretty outrageous.

MPs should be asking questions in the House of Commons about dealings between Interpal, the Home Office and other state bodies.