Taxpayers’ money that ‘paid terrorist salaries’ must be disclosed

Taxpayers’ money that ‘paid terrorist salaries’ must be disclosed

Britain must make details public about cash sent to accounts reportedly used to pay convicted killers' wages

A bullet hole in a glass door of a synagogue that was the scene of a terror attack. Two Palestinians armed with a cleaver and a gun burst in to a shul in the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Har-Nof, killing four Israeli men and wounding several others
A bullet hole in a glass door of a synagogue that was the scene of a terror attack. Two Palestinians armed with a cleaver and a gun burst in to a shul in the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Har-Nof, killing four Israeli men and wounding several others

The Government has been ordered to publish details of hundreds of millions of pounds paid into accounts allegedly used to pay salaries to Palestinian terrorists.

This week’s landmark ruling by the Information Commissioner follows a year-long battle by UK lawyers concerned that the fund was used in part to pay convicted killers.

The Department for International Development (DfID) had been given 35 days to send UK Lawyers for Israel (UKLFI) the external auditors’ reports on the Palestinian Recovery and Development Programme (PRDP).

The UK paid more than £430 million to the PRDP between 2008 and 2015. It is a multi-donor trust fund operated by the World Bank, which acted as an administrator for disbursements in Gaza and the West Bank. London-based auditor PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) wrote several reports on the fund. One, analysing financial transactions from 2014 to 2015, has already been published, and notes that “all withdrawals… are for legitimate budgetary purposes, following procedures established by the Ministry of Finance”.

However, other PwC reports have not been published, nor have those of another unnamed company, so in July last year UKLFI sought these external auditors’ reports, together with their terms of engagement, asking DFID to release them under a Freedom of Information Act request.

In September, this was turned down because “the balance of the public interest favoured withholding the information”. UKLFI asked for an internal DfID review of the decision, and in October, the ministry’s reviewers upheld the initial refusal.

In November, UKLFI asked the Information Commissioner, Elizabeth Denham, to intervene, and in a letter sent to UKLFI on Friday, her office said: “The public interest favours disclosing the withheld information.”

In the ruling, Denham’s said DfID had consulted the Palestinian Authority (PA) on the potential disclosure of the reports and their terms, and that “the PA has been very clear that it did not want the withheld information to be disclosed”.

The Commissioner agreed that disclosure “could extend to a wider breakdown in trust and confidence which could affect the wider UK-PA relationship”.

Among the reasons DfID cited for refusing to release the reports and the auditors’ scope was the potential to prejudice international relations between the UK and another “state” or “territory within a state”. The Commissioner concluded that the PA was neither.

In weighing up the balance of public interest for disclosure, Denham cited Israel’s Palestinian Media Watch, quoted in UKLFI’s submission, which found that “up to eight percent” of PA Central Treasury funds were used to pay salaries to convicted terrorists. She said this “rewards and encourages terrorism”.

Ministers had argued that the money was not paid as “terrorists’ salaries”, but instead paid to the families of Palestinian political prisoners as a form of welfare.

UKLFI’s chief executive, Jonathan Turner, said: “Those responsible for misleading the public and Parliament to facilitate the payment of large sums of money that were used to reward and encourage murder should now be held to account.”

UKLFI had earlier complained that PwC “failed to comply with the OECD guidelines… by not reporting the use of funds transferred by the World Bank to pay salaries to terrorists”.

PwC said the narrow scope of its terms of engagement did not require it to consider this issue. UKLFI added that if this was true, “British ministers… have repeatedly lied on this issue,” noting: “If so, these lies are particularly serious, as they have facilitated the transfer of funds used to encourage and reward murder.”

A DFID spokesperson said it “is carefully reviewing the decision made by the Information Commissioner’s Office and we will respond to this shortly.”

‘I was hoodwinked’

On 18 December 2010, a British-born Israeli tour guide, Kay Wilson, was leading a hike in a forest near Beit Shemesh and Mata, west of Jerusalem, together with an American Christian woman, Kristine Luken.

They were approached by two Palestinian men, tied up and attacked with a serrated knife. Luken was killed. Wilson was seriously injured but survived by playing dead. She later escaped and made her way to a picnic area the next day. She was found with multiple stab wounds, her hands still bound. Her injuries were life-changing and left her disabled.

On 26 January 2011, Israeli police arrested four Palestinian men from two villages near Hebron. They were charged with killing Luken, the attempted killing of Wilson, and the murder of an Israeli woman, Neta Sorek, in 2009. Both men received life sentences.

Kay Wilson

Wilson is concerned that UK aid may have unwittingly contributed towards her attackers’ ‘salaries’ and has been writing to MPs and peers for years, asking them to investigate the final destination of UK aid. However, because she no longer lives in the UK, MPs have been unable to help her.

“DfID have been aiding and abetting the terrorists who tried to murder me, and have done so without any blemish of conscience,” she said. “DFiD’s so-called robust safeguards and their brazen confidence that no money goes to prisoner payments is a cruel lie and a sham.

“I am looking forward to a public inquiry and the appropriate penalties for those who have heartlessly and consistently lied to me, hoodwinked my family and deceived the good people of the UK.”

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