Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

Middle East politics hits charity

A South African ­charity that assists ­Palestinian orphans has decided to seek ­government intervention after two local banks froze its accounts because of its inclusion on a United States treasury sanctions list.

Melissa Hoole, the spokesperson for the Al Aqsa Foundation of South Africa, told the Mail & Guardian that it was a case of mistaken identity because there is an organisation in Germany with the same name  that is said to be supporting Hamas in Palestinian territories and that appears on the American list. She said her organisation had no links with the German organisation.

Hoole said that First National Bank had sent the organisation a written notice of its intention to close its bank accounts on the basis of the listing on the US treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control (Ofac) list in September last year.

"Anticipating the closure of our FNB account, we opened a new account with Al Baraka Bank in the first week of December 2012," she said. "On December 19, FNB instructed the foundation that the account would be closed on March 31 2013. During this period, FNB notified Al Baraka of the Ofac issues, resulting in Al Baraka freezing our account without prior notice."

According to the internet site of the US treasury department, Ofac "administers and enforces economic and trade sanctions based on US foreign policy and national security goals against targeted foreign countries and regimes, terrorists, international narcotics traffickers, those engaged in activities related to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and other threats to the national security, foreign policy or economy of the United States".

But Hoole said that the foundation was a charitable organisation registered with the social development department whose primary mandate was to serve poor and needy orphans in the Palestinian territories.  

"Since its inception in 2002, the foundation has avidly avoided any political affiliations or political activity, including solidarity activity in South Africa, lest this interfere with its ability to carry out charitable activities," she said.  

Stringent obligations
"A South African organisation, with a South African board and accountable to South African donors, is being denied these rights, not on the basis of its violating any South African laws or policies, but because it has been dubiously listed by a foreign government."

Patty Seetharam, the senior communications manager for FNB, told the M&G that: "It all boiled down to best global practice. The international financial community imposes stringent obligations in respect of the maintenance of banking relationships with entities listed by Ofac and the decision by FNB to terminate its relationship with the foundation is a consequence of this fact alone."

Shabir Chohan, the chief executive of Al Baraka Bank, said that although he could not comment on the foundation's account because of client confidentiality, he could confirm that its account was still open.

However, Hoole said both banks were imposing limited transactions on the foundation's accounts.

"FNB will accept our donors' deposits, but allows us no cheque facilities, no internet banking and only one single transfer a month into a bank account the foundation holds with another bank," she said.

She said that the foundation would seek intervention from the social development department because the foundation was registered as an non-profit organisation, the trade and industry department, whose Trust Act the foundation complies with, and the department of international relations and co-operation, which is responsible for engaging with foreign governments.

"The foundation will be asking them to uphold South Africa's Constitution and legal framework in the face of this assault from the US on South African civil society," she said.

The US Embassy in South Africa said it had no further information other than what is publicly available from the US department of the treasury.

Subscribe for R500/year

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them and get a 57% discount in your first year.

Related stories

WELCOME TO YOUR M&G

If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here

Advertising

Subscribers only

‘The children cannot cope any more’: Suicide in Calvinia highlights...

How Covid-19 has intensified the physical and emotional burdens placed on children’s shoulders.

Capitec Bank flies high above Viceroy’s arrow

The bank took a knock after being labelled a loan shark by the short seller, but this has not stymied its growth

More top stories

Council wants Hawks, SIU probe into BAT’s Zimbabwe scandal

The cigarette maker has been accused of giving up to $500 000 in bribes and spying on competitors

How Alpha Condé overthrew Alpha Condé

Since the coup d’état, Guinea’s head of state has been in the custody of the military officers. But it was the president who was the primary architect of his own downfall

‘The Making of Mount Edgecombe’: A view of history from...

Indian indentured labourers’ lives are celebrated in a new book, Sugar Mill Barracks: The Making of Mount Edgecombe

Case of men arrested with 19 rhino horns is postponed

Alleged rhino kingpin and a Mpumalanga businessman appeared in court on charges of the illegal possession and selling of rhino horns
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…
×