The transaction between World Vision United States, a non-profit humanitarian agency, and the Islamic Relief Agency (ISRA) was revealed on 22 December in a report recently released by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).
A probe into the connections between World Vision and ISRA was launched in February 2019.
The investigation found that World Vision had not known that ISRA had been sanctioned by the US since 2004, after channelling an estimated sum of $5 million to Maktab al-Khidamat, also known as the Afghan Service Bureau, the precursor organisation to Al-Qaeda, controlled by Osama Bid Laden.
‘Ignorance Not an Excuse’
The Senate report concluded that the humanitarian agency’s ignorance had stemmed from “insufficient vetting practices”.
“World Vision works to help people in need across the world, and that work is admirable. Though it may not have known that ISRA was on the sanctions list or that it was listed because of its affiliation with terrorism, it should have. Ignorance can’t suffice as an excuse. World Vision’s changes in vetting practices are a good first step, and I look forward to its continued progress,” Chuck Grassley said in a statement.
The investigation launched in 2019 was triggered after the emergence of an article in National Review in July 2018. Sam Westrop, the director of the Middle East Forum’s Islamist Watch, had revealed findings that the Barack Obama administration had signed off on a “$200,000 grant of taxpayer money to ISRA” even after discovering it was a sanctioned entity for its ties to terrorist organisations.
Taxpayer Funds Funnelled to ISRA
The current Senate report states that on 21 January 2014, World Vision had submitted a grant application to the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to carry out its Blue Nile Recovery Programme, seeking to provide food security, sanitation equipment, and health services to areas hard-hit by conflict in the Blue Nile region of Sudan.
USAID accordingly awarded the Evangelical humanitarian non-profit a $723,405 grant for the programme. The following month, ISRA offered to partner with World Vision to provide humanitarian services to aspects of the Blue Nile programme, says the report, with the organisations collaborating on a spate of projects in 2013 and 2014.
All the while, World Vision had allegedly been oblivious of the fact that ISRA was sanctioned. The revelation came after the non-profit set out to collaborate with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) on a humanitarian project in Sudan. Prior to taking a decision, IOM embarked upon a routine vetting procedure, only to learn of World Vision’s ties with ISRA, and the latter’s sanctioned status.
Upon receiving confirmation of this from the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) Compliance Team, IOM rejected World Vision’s offer to collaborate, states the report.
The legal department of the non-profit was notified of ISRA’s status in September 2014, with all payments to the organisation placed on hold during an investigation.
World Vision also wrote to OFAC on 19 November 2014, requesting a temporary license to wrap up the existing contract with the organisation if confirmation of ISRA’s sanctioned status was received.
The response, while confirming that ISRA was sanctioned, rejected the request for a temporary license, stating it would be “inconsistent with OFAC policy”.
World Vision followed up with yet another request for a license to transact with ISRA, as it reportedly feared legal consequences and potential expulsion for not following through with the contract.
On 4 May 2015, the Barack Obama administration’s State Department recommended OFAC grant World Vision’s request for the temporary license to transact.
OFAC granted the license to funnel $125,000 into ISRA the following day, accompanying the move with a “cautionary letter”. The letter warned the non-profit that its partnership with ISRA “appeared to have violated” the Global Terrorism Sanction Regulations.
No proof was found that World Vision intentionally sought to dodge US sanctions by partnering with ISRA, claim the findings of the US Senate report on 22 December.
“We also found no evidence that World Vision knew that ISRA was a sanctioned entity prior to receiving notice from Treasury. However, based on the evidence presented, we conclude that World Vision had access to the appropriate public information and should have known how, but failed to, properly vet ISRA as a sub-grantee, resulting in the transfer of U.S. taxpayer dollars to an organisation with an extensive history of supporting terrorist organisation [sic] and terrorists, including Osama Bin Laden.”
The report deplored the humanitarian organisation’s system of vetting prospective sub-grantees as “borderline negligent”.
The non-profit was found to have “ignored elementary level investigative procedures.”
“World Vision has a duty to ensure that funds acquired from the U.S. government or donated by Americans do not end up supporting terrorist activity,” says the report, while adding that a more “robust” and reliable system of screening would be called for to restore the public’s trust that “contributions made to World Vision are not funding illicit organisations”.
In response to the report, the non-profit issued a statement to underscore that it “takes compliance obligations seriously and shares Sen. Grassley and the committee staff’s objective for good stewardship”.
“We appreciate the acknowledgement that the committee staff’s report to the chairman ‘found no evidence that World Vision knew that ISRA was a sanctioned entity prior to receiving notice from Treasury…Terrorism runs counter to everything World Vision stands for as an organisation and we strongly condemn any act of terrorism or support for such activities.”