Tuesday, April 10, 2007


Hilali charity probe widens

Richard Kerbaj

THE Australian Federal Police has seized documents and will question key Islamic community figures after widening its investigation into allegations Australia’s mufti, Taj Din al-Hilali, gave charity funds to supporters of al-Qa’ida and Hezbollah terrorist outfits in Lebanon last year.

The Weekend Australian understands the AFP this week contacted Sheik Hilali’s confidant Keysar Trad — who is in Lebanon — about the probe.

In recent days, police have seized documents from the Sydney-based Lebanese Muslim Association, which is linked to Sheik Hilali, and also interviewed its president, Tom Zreika.
It is believed the federal police “intelligence probe” will include the LMA’s affiliate organisations that helped raise the charity donations.

The Australian revealed this week the LMA raised $70,000 in conjunction with other Islamic bodies following the Israel-Hezbollah war in Lebanon last year.

The money was earmarked for war victims.

But LMA documents, in Sheik Hilali’s handwriting, reveal he gave $US10,000 to a political party leader and alleged supporter of the Iraqi insurgency and al-Qa’ida, Sheik Bilal Shaaban.

The LMA, which runs the nation’s most powerful mosque in Lakemba, in Sydney’s southwest, will also be asked by the AFP to submit paperwork detailing its financial transactions.

The Weekend Australian understands Sheik Hilali, who is overseas, and LMA employee Sheik Yihya Safi will be asked by the AFP to provide a detailed outline of how they distributed the Australian-raised funds in Lebanon, amid accusations that Sheik Hilali met the leader of Hezbollah’s terrorist wing, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah.

Hezbollah is an Iranian-backed group with a political arm in Lebanon and a militant arm that is proscribed in Australia.
Supporting both its political and military wings is illegal under UN counter-terrorist financing declarations.

It is understood that the AFP could potentially involve the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC), which is the nation’s financial intelligence unit and anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing regulator.

The Australian revealed in November that AUSTRAC was investigating two Australian citizens suspected of providing financial assistance to Hezbollah during its 34-day conflict with Israel.

It was revealed that AUSTRAC’s specialist financial intelligence unit had linked two suspect transaction records to a name and an address and a further three suspect transaction records to another name.

The LMA’s charity donations were electronically transferred by the LMA to Lebanon into the private bank account of its employee Sheik Safi, who then handed out the money with Sheik Hilali in November.

Mr Zreika said yesterday the LMA would no longer send money overseas without notifying government departments, including the Australian Taxation Office and the AFP.

“We are doing everything we possibly can to get to the bottom of this,” he said.

“We won’t be sending money overseas any more unless express consent is obtained from requisite authorities, including the federal police.”

Mr Zreika promised this week to repay Muslim donors the $US10,000 given by Sheik Hilali to Sheik Shaaban.

The LMA paid for Sheik Hilali’s ticket to Lebanon last year after he came under fire internationally when The Australian revealed his Ramadan sermon in which he compared women to uncovered meat and joked about the notorious Sydney gang rapes.

But the LMA banned Sheik Hilali from delivering sermons at Lakemba Mosque after his return from Egypt in January.

And, in an embarrassing blow to the nation’s 300,000 Muslims, the 66-year-old controversial cleric was given a three-month extension in his role as mufti two weeks ago by the newly formed Australian National Imams Council.

The ANIC’s spokesman, Mohamad Abdalla, did not return calls yesterday.

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