US charity gave $12.4m to Hamas

November 27, 2008

Five former leaders of a Muslim charity may face lengthy prison sentences after being convicted on multiple charges of transferring money to Hamas.

A court in the United States ruled that the Texas-based Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development - once the largest Muslim charity in the US - must now forfeit some $12.4 million (£8m) to the United States government.

The move follows a lengthy legal process and a trial last year which broke down in disarray after a jury deadlock, prompting a mis-trial.

This week's verdict was a rare victory for the government policy of prosecuting terror finance and marked the largest legal victory of its kind since the terror attacks of September 11, 2001. Holy Land was shut down and had its assets frozen shortly after those attacks as part of a government clampdown.

"United States citizens have spoken in this case, and said with a resounding verdict of guilty that we will not tolerate those who choose to finance terrorism," US Attorney Richard Roper said.

While the charity had insisted it was a purely humanitarian organisation, focussing on social welfare and helping Palestinian orphans, prosecutors said it had funded schools and social programmes run by Hamas.

The charity itself was convicted on 32 counts, while its former head, Ghassan Elashi, and former chief executive, Shukri Abu-Baker, were convicted of 69 counts.

The other defendants, Mufid Abdulqader and Abdulrahman Odeh,were convicted on three counts of conspiracy, and Mohammed El-Mezain on one count of conspiracy to support a terrorist organisation. A sentencing date has yet to be announced and defence lawyers said they would appeal. A spokesman for a coalition of Holy Land supporters called Hungry for Justice said they believed the defendants to be "completely innocent. For the last two years we've watched this trial unfold, and we have yet to see any evidence of a criminal act introduced to a jury. This jury found that humanitarian aid is a crime."

Last updated: 1:53pm, November 27 2008