The head of World Vision International has doubled down on the organization’s stance that there is no credible evidence to support Israeli government claims that a World Vision staffer in Gaza diverted money to support the fundamentalist Islamic group Hamas.
Kevin Jenkins, CEO of the faith-based organization’s overseas arm, issued a statement Tuesday in which he said World Vision would condemn such acts by any employee, if true. But Jenkins said the total budget for the program alone would make it impossible for then-manager of Gaza operations, Mohammad El Halabi, to have diverted as much as $50 million.
“We will examine all the evidence behind the charges, and from those who independently examine our accountability standards,” said Jenkins. “If any of these allegations are proven to be true, we will take swift and decisive action. Unfortunately, we still have not seen any of the evidence. We look forward to an ongoing dialogue to be able to clarify discrepancies, and we call for a fair and transparent legal process.”
According to Jenkins and statements made by other World Vision officials, a total of $22.5 million was spent in Gaza over the past decade. That amount is significantly less than the Israeli government’s claim of some $50 million total – or about $7.2 million per year – allegedly diverted by Halabi during his tenure with World Vision International.
The humanitarian relief organization is one of the largest in the world, with its U.S.-based operation headquartered just outside Seattle in Federal Way, WA.
World Vision, which routinely audits its own aid spending to ensure the money gets where it is intended to go, has in the past identified such diversionary fraud by its own employees. Accountability caps allowed Halabi to only be able to sign off on $15,000 expenditures, said World Vision.
Halabi only became the manager of Gaza operations in October 2014. The restrictions on spending put in place by the organization in order to prevent fraud as well as the massive discrepancy between the amount of money Halabi had access to and the Israel government’s claim of $50 million diverted have already raised serious questions about the justification for these charges.
Despite raising concerns about the charges against Halabi, World Vision has suspended its work in Gaza to allow for internal and external investigations. Both Australia and Germany announced that they were suspending funding for World Vision programs in Gaza pending further investigation.
Israeli authorities say that Halabi confessed to infiltrating World Vision and using programs to support Hamas. The figures citing total money diverted come from a summary document published by the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. How it arrives at $7.2 million per year is unclear. It says that Halabi admitted to diverting 60 percent of World Vision’s annual budget and that 40 percent of the money meant for civilian projects, totaling $1.5 million per year, went directly to Hamas.
Israeli Foreign Ministry Spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon suggested to the Associated Press that the difference in amounts may be due to the fact that World Vision is not counting in-kind donations. World Vision responded that the $2.5 million figure does, in fact, include non-monetary items, but without budgetary information released and details from either group, it is hard to verify.
Information that is available shows that World Vision spent about $100 million over the past 10 years for its program in Jerusalem, Gaza and the West Bank. In 2014, some 560,000 people were supported with $16 million spent. About 80,000 people were located in Gaza – roughly 14 percent of the total number of people supported. If every dollar was equally spent on every person, then $2.24 million went to Gaza, a sum that fits right in with the $22.5 million World Vision says was spent over 10 years.
The $1.5 million in cash that Israel’s internal security service, Shin Bet, says went directly to Hamas is more than 66 percent of that total.
The statement immediately following the announcement of the charges and the update from Jenkins show that World Vision is confident in its ability to properly monitor expenditures and prevent fraud. The aid group made sure to point out that its programs support 92,000 children in the West Bank and Gaza. And it names the Australian and German governments as countries who have sent officials to review their projects in person.
“It is tragic that this issue is taking us away from our work on important issues of injustice and poverty affecting billions of children around the world,” concluded Jenkins. “We are committed to acting in a way that is transparent, respectful of the ongoing legal process, upholds our values as an organization, and builds trust in humanitarian organizations working in Gaza and around the world.”