Israel sentences former head of NGO World Vision in Gaza to 12 years in prison

L’Former director of the NGO World Vision in the Gaza Strip, Mohammed Halabi, was sentenced Tuesday to 12 years in prison by an Israeli court for embezzlement for the benefit of the armed Islamist movement Hamas.

Mr. Halabi was found guilty in June of having embezzled tens of millions of dollars for the benefit of Hamas, in power in this Palestinian enclave. The Beersheva district court (south) had also found him guilty of belonging to a terrorist group and of having “transmitted information to the enemy”.

The sentence was pronounced Tuesday by this court which sentenced Mr. Halabi to 12 years in prison including his last six years in detention, according to the court decision consulted by AFP.

Mr. Halabi had pleaded not guilty to all the charges against him, his lawyer denouncing a “political trial” and his ex-employer maintaining, after an internal audit, that he had not diverted any sum for the benefit of Hamas , a movement considered “terrorist” by Israel and many Western countries.

“He said he was innocent. He did nothing and there is no evidence against him. On the contrary, he proved in court (…) that he made sure that no amount is transferred to Hamas,” his lawyer, Maher Hanna, reacted on Tuesday.

“Mohammed was counting on justice and he thought that in the end justice would prevail,” added Mr. Hanna, who intends to appeal the judgment to the Israeli Supreme Court.

“The judgment delivered today is deeply disappointing and clashes with the facts and the evidence”, reacted Sharon Marshall, representative of the American organization World Vision before the court in Beersheva, a large city in the Negev desert (south). .

“We fully support Mohammed’s decision to appeal the judgment and ask the Supreme Court (Israeli, editor’s note) for a fair and transparent trial,” added this official of the Christian NGO also known by its French name of World Vision. .

Secret trial

After the June 2016 arrest of Mohammed Halabi, Australia, which had donated millions of dollars to charities in the Palestinian Territories, including World Vision, announced the suspension of funding for programs in Gaza and the opening of an investigation.

However, the latter had concluded that nothing suggested an embezzlement. And another investigation, commissioned by the NGO World Vision, had also concluded that there was no evidence of embezzlement or membership of Hamas.

Since the arrest, the legal proceedings had remained secret, with Israel citing security reasons. In its judgment on Tuesday, the Beersheva court argued that Mohammed Halabi had joined the armed wing of Hamas in 2004, which then asked him to “infiltrate” World Vision to embezzle funds and equipment.

In Gaza, her mother Amal al-Halabi denounced Tuesday “an injustice”: “Where is the international community and where are the human rights of Mohammed?” She asked AFP.

“To place Halabi in detention for six years on the basis of secret information, moreover rejected by several investigations, was already a travesty of justice. To imprison him for another six years is simply cruel and inhuman”, commented Tuesday Omar Shakir , director of the NGO Human Rights Watch for Israel and the Palestinian Territories.

Following the conviction in June, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed its “serious concerns” in this case, citing in particular a “lack of evidence” and “international standards for a fair trial not respected”.

The United States, while “noting the concerns of the United Nations and NGOs about the guarantees of a fair trial”, according to Vedant Patel, spokesman for the State Department, refrained from commenting on the sentence. .

08/30/2022 21:26:06 – Beersheva (Israel) (AFP) – © 2022 AFP

Israel sentences former head of NGO World Vision in Gaza to 12 years in prison