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Wednesday 24 May 2017

Opinion

Why AUSTRAC Can’t Investigate The Halal Terror Tax

Paul Zanetti Monday 2 November 2015



THIS week the Senate resumes its investigation into food certification. Consumers have the right to know if their halal certified Vegemite, Coon cheese, Cadburys chocolate and other household brands fund terrorism.

AUSTRAC, our money laundering and terrorist funding tracker, has deliberately pulled the halal certified wool over the eyes of the Australian public and dopey journalists.

AUSTRAC, the AUStralian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre says they have ‘no evidence’ halal certification funds terrorism.

The reason they’ve found ’no evidence’ is because AUSTRAC has never investigated, nor has it the power to investigate, halal certifiers.

Nor can it properly investigate the Islamic charities to which certifiers donate funds which are moved offshore to banned terrorist groups. These bodies engage in illegal and dangerous activity, punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment, yet they’re getting away with it because AUSTRAC can do bugger all.

Australian law ties the hands of our terror trackers. AUSTRAC is limited by the legislation which regulates it, the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorism Financing Act 2006 (AML/CTF Act).

The only bodies which can legally report suspicious activity to AUSTRAC are financial institutions and similar commercial operations called ‘reporting entities’.

Halal certifiers do not fit this definition so they don’t fall under the investigative powers of AUSTRAC, while the Islamic charities with international headquarters and multiple webs of bank accounts are out of the reach of AUSTRAC,

Here’s AUSTRAC’s official statement from their website, updated just 5 weeks ago:

http://www.austrac.gov.au/…/m…/statement-halal-certification

Statement: Halal certification
24 September 2015

As asserted in the Senate committee hearing in Sydney today, AUSTRAC has found no evidence to support claims that halal certification fees fund terrorism.

We first put this information on the record in November 2014, and stand by it.

As Australia’s financial intelligence unit, AUSTRAC carries out comprehensive analysis of our nation’s financial sector.

Last financial year alone, as a result of our ongoing collaboration with industry, we received more than 96 million financial transaction reports and more than 86,000 suspicious matter reports from our 14,000 reporting entities.

Our position on this matter is based on our analysis of this information, and our ongoing partnerships with industry, regulators and national security and law enforcement agencies.

As part of AUSTRAC’s role in the national security environment, the dissemination of financial analysis aims to assist in the identification terrorism financing risks, including the misuse of reporting entities and/or any criminal abuse of Australia’s financial sector.

These reports allow our analysts to make judgements about the potential risk of terrorism financing, and refer relevant information to investigating agencies, including the Australian Federal Police.

The intelligence we produce also allows us to target the use of enforcement/compliance action to further harden our financial sector against the threats of money laundering and terrorism financing.

We invite anyone with information concerning these allegations to call our Contact Centre on 1300 021 037 or email [email protected]

Whadda load of bollocks.

This statement was attributed to the AUSTRAC CEO Paul Jevtovic on 24 September 2015 the day AUSTRAC gave evidence at the Senate inquiry into food certification.

So why can’t AUSTRAC investigate halal certifiers?

Firstly because halal certifiers who donate substantial funds to Islamic charities are not ‘officially’ doing anything wrong.

Donating money to a charity is not an illegal activity.

Unless, of course that charity happens to be an Islamic one.

Here’s what AUSTRAC says in its most recent report into Islamic charities.

TERRORISM FINANCING IN AUSTRALIA 2014

Legitimate and 'front' businesses
Both legitimate and 'front' businesses are exploited by larger and better organised terrorist groups, particularly those with an international presence. Similar to the way charities and NPOs can be misused, these groups have set up business accounts in several jurisdictions and used them as a cover to send or receive funds through mainstream financial channels (such as the banking sector). Very large amounts of money can be transferred internationally, disguised as 'business' transactions.??The report also says,?

• Terrorism financing is largely motivated by international tensions and conflicts. Communal and sectarian links between groups overseas and individuals in Australia drives Australian involvement in terrorism financing.?

• Use of conduit countries. In recent cases, those sending funds out of Australia for terrorism financing tend to use conduit countries rather than send the funds directly to high-risk jurisdictions. This makes it more difficult for financial institutions to link the international funds transfers directly to terrorism financing. Conduit countries may also be used in an attempt to evade United Nations Security Council sanctions and Australian autonomous sanctions.?

• Commingling legitimate funds with funds collected for terrorist groups. This is especially the case for donations collected through charities and NPOs. Commingling can disguise funds raised for terrorism financing among legitimate donations. It can also add to the total pool of funds directed towards a terrorist group.

AUSTRAC knows this, yet can’t investigate the known links from halal certifiers to Islamic charities to international terrorists.

The law states that to report suspicious activity to AUSTRAC you first need to enrol and register your business with AUSTRAC. That business needs to fit the legal definition of a ‘reporting entity’.

That business then needs to comply with a long list of ‘record’ keeping’. This includes retaining and securing record keeping of activity, in the course of the entity’s business. Any suspicious ‘transaction’ with evidence must be kept for AUSTRAC’s investigation and must be kept for AUSTRAC’s purposes for seven years.

These records have to be Electronic funds transfer instructions (EFTIs) and/or physical records. Basically the ‘reporting entities’ have to gather all the evidence for AUSTRAC.

Anyway, I could go on and on and on, but the laws are so convoluted and contrived, they seem to have been designed to make it impossible to track the terror tax from halal certifiers who donate to Islamic charities to their overseas headquarters then onto banned terrorists.

Let’s take one of these halal certifiers and the link to an Australian based Islamic charity.

The Halal Certification Authority Pty Ltd is a private company owned by Mr Mohamed El Mouelhy. Mr El Mouelhy also owns the Halal Helpline which is a gold sponsor of the Sounds of Light concert, run by Human Appeals International (HAI), an international charity established in 1984 with Australian offices in Lakemba (Sydney), Coburg (Melbourne) and Mile End (Adelaide).

The annual Sounds of Light concerts run by HAI are held at Flemington Racecourse, Melbourne, Olympic Park, Sydney, Town Hall, Adelaide and Riverside Theatre, Perth.

The concert raises much of its funds for the HAI charity through its sponsorship program through which Mr El Mouelhy donates $20,000.

HAI has been identified as a funder and supporter of terrorists organisation Hamas (proscribed as a terrorist organisation by the Australian government) and banned or identified as terrorists by the CIA, FBI reports, the IRS, the US State Dept, the British government, the Israeli government and multiple media investigations.

In Australia the known links are:

Your grocery money ———> halal certified food product or business ———> Halal Certification Authority Pty Ltd ———> Mohamed El Mouelhy ———> Halal Helpline (a $20k gold sponsor) ———> Sounds of Light Charity Concert ———> Human Appeals International ———> HAI supporter of, and linked to, HAMAS (proscribed terrorist organisation) (CIA, FBI Reports, IRS, US State Dept, British govt, Israeli govt,)

This is just one example.

When Mr El Mouelhy was linked to HAI on a recent 4 Corners investigation into halal certification, he was asked "What if it was established HAI gives money to Hamas?", Mr El Mouelhy replied he would look for another organisation. It would be in his interest to look beyond Islamic charities considering there are so many listed as terror groups or with links to terror groups.

HAI International has offices all over the world. HAI Australia runs an emergency appeal to fund fuel for hospitals in Gaza.

Most of the hospitals in Gaza are run by Hamas.

Hamas has its headquarters in the Al-Shifra hospital.

Hamas also launches its rockets aimed at Israel from its hospitals.

HAI Australia in its annual report says it collected $10.4 million in donations last year. Part of that has come from Australian grocery monies.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has said Hamas had been listed by the United Nations as a terror group since December 2001. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop ­renewed the listing for another three years from November 2013.

But as far as AUSTRAC is concerned, they have ‘no evidence’ halal certification is linked to terrorism.

Let’s again compare this statement to what they told the Senate inquiry on 24 September 2015:

Senator BERNARDI: But you do not really track it, in essence, do you? You do not follow the certification money through a group like AFIC into a mosque or a bookstore where there are extremist materials and the conversion of people and the inspiring of jihadis is taking place.

Mr Robertson (AUSTRAC National Manager of Intelligence): The answer to that is: no, we do not follow those funds, particularly, for those entities who are engaged in halal certification. Our work has not taken us there. The monitoring of transactions that we do and the other information that we have received have not required us to prioritise that. There are other elements of the funding of all the things that present that current threat, which we do focus on, but the halal certification has not been one of those.

Senator BERNARDI: Let me give you an example: Human Appeal International. It is an international organisation that has ties to Hamas. Hamas is not a proscribed organisation in Australia, but the Hamas brigades are. You can track the money from Human Appeal International that sends out to Hamas. Is that right? They have to send it to an end recipient, so you know that it is going to Hamas or whatever their organisation is.

Mr Robertson: If Human Appeal International has a bank account in Australia and they send funds, yes, we would see where that money was.

Senator BERNARDI: But you cannot then track what Hamas does with the funding?

Mr Robertson: Based on what is reported to us, no.

Senator BERNARDI: If a halal certifier boasts about supporting an organisation like Human Appeal International, which is directly linked to Hamas and has personnel on their international body that are linked to Hezbollah, which is not a good group of people, it is not too long a bow to draw and say, 'The profits of halal certification are linked to organisations that are not acting in Australia's interests?

Mr Robertson: That is when AUSTRAC does not have that investigative mandate in terms of an agency.

Senator BERNARDI: I can find this out through a Google search, effectively. We have a bloke (Mohammed El Mouelhy of Halal Certification Authority Pty Ltd) who is boasting and is contributing to a charity which is directly linked to those types of organisations. How can you not conclude that the profits of halal certification, which this man openly boasts runs into millions of dollars for him, are contributing to extremist organisations?

Mrs Jamieson (AUSTRAC Acting General Manager, Compliance): We look at the financial transaction reports that come in. As we said, halal certification, the business, does not fall under our legislation. So we revert back to the transaction reports that we then receive, which are the international funds transfers. Mr Robertson has explained to you what we do with that information when we receive it.

Senator BERNARDI: Once again, I come back to this: have you specifically looked at the use of funds by organisations that conduct halal certification?

Mr Robertson: The answer to that is no, we are not looking specifically at the use of those funds…. we do not have any active work against those movements of funds.

Senator BERNARDI: I have learned not to rely on ABC Fact Check. ABC Fact Check said,

'A spokesman for AUSTRAC told Fact Check it had no information to indicate that there are links to terrorism financing from halal certification fees.’

That may be entirely accurate but it is because you have not investigated halal certification fees and the use of that.

Mr Robertson: Again, for clarity, we do not conduct the investigations per se—and I know it is terminology. On the basis that a third party outside of AUSTRAC has not been able to refer us to information that provides that evidence to look at it—and our own detection and monitoring systems of what we know about how terrorism financing occurs has not surfaced that information—the short answer is no.

AUSTRAC has been caught with its pants around its ankles - so too have many journalists like Michael Safi at The Guardian and Will Ockendon at the ABC who continue to report ‘there is no direct link between halal certification and terrorism’.

It’s time AUSTRAC came clean with the Australian public and ceased its pretence and word play.

An updated accurate public statement on its website would be the first place to start.