The former director of the Christian NGO World Vision in the Gaza Strip, Mohammed Halabi, was sentenced on Tuesday to 12 years in prison by an Israeli court for embezzling funds for the benefit of the armed Islamist movement Hamas. A sentence deemed "deeply disappointing" by the NGO which considers that it "contrasts sharply with the evidence and the facts of the case".
On Tuesday, an Israeli court sentenced Mohammed Halabi to 12 years in prison including his last six years in detention, according to a court decision seen by AFP.
The former director of the Christian NGO World Vision 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".
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.
“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.
The Christian NGO also published a statement following this verdict in which she writes supporting "Mohammad's intention to appeal the verdict and the sentence" and calls for "a fair and transparent appeal process based on the facts of the case".
“As followers of Jesus Christ, World Vision is accountable to the children and families we serve, to our donors and most importantly to God to be faithful stewards. World Vision categorically condemns any act of terrorism or support for such activities. We reject any attempt to misappropriate humanitarian resources or exploit the work of humanitarian organizations operating anywhere, and we see no evidence of these things in this case. »
In Gaza, his mother Amal al-Halabi denounced Tuesday “an injustice”: “Where is the international community and where are the human rights of Mohammed? “, she asked AFP.
“Placing Halabi in detention for six years on the basis of secret information, moreover rejected by several investigations, was already a travesty of justice. Imprisoning him for another six years is simply cruel and inhuman,” commented Omar Shakir, director of the NGO Human Rights Watch for Israel and the Palestinian Territories, following the verdict.
A 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.
Camille Westphal Perrier (with AFP)