UK forced to disclose audits of funds used by PA for terrorists’ salaries

“The Commissioner has concluded that there is a significant public interest in the disclosure of the information.”

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July 31, 2019 21:09
4 minute read.
A participant stands near a logo of World Bank

A participant stands near a logo of World Bank at the International Monetary Fund - World Bank Annual Meeting 2018. (photo credit: REUTERS/JOHANNES P. CHRISTO)

The United Kingdom’s Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham has ordered the Department for International Development (DFID) to disclose audit reports of accounts into which British grant money was transferred and allegedly used to pay salaries to convicted Palestinian terrorists.

The decision, signed on Friday by Jonathan Slee, senior case officer for the Information Commissioner’s Office, overturns a 2018 refusal by both the DFID and its internal reviewer to disclose these reports, following a Freedom of Information request made by UK Lawyers for Israel (UKLFI) last year.

The commissioner is requiring that DFID provide UKLFI with a copy of the information falling within the scope of its request within 35 days or face being sent before the High Court.
“The Commissioner has concluded that there is a significant public interest in the disclosure of the information,” Slee’s letter said.

On July 5, 2018, UKLFI submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the DFID for copies of audit reports for the Palestinian Recovery and Development Program (PRDP), a World Bank multi-donor trust fund (MDTF) for the Palestinian Authority PA, along with the terms of reference for these audits. However, the DFID refused to release this information, citing among other reasons that relations between the UK and the PA could be harmed by such disclosure.

However, according to UKLFI and now the commissioner, the harm could be greater to the British public.

UKLFI said that in the period 2008 to 2015, Britain gave grant aid to the PA’s Central Treasury totaling £430.5 million (NIS 1.85 m.), via the World Bank. The aid was untied and not earmarked for a specific project.

Furthermore, Palestinian Media Watch (PMW) disclosed documents that showed that the PA pays more than 8% of its total budget through its Central Treasury to fund salaries for convicted terrorists, which serve to reward and encourage terrorism. As such, it is possible that some of the funds provided by the UK were used to pay these salaries.

Britain’s funding allocations were audited by the independent auditor PricewaterhouseCoopers. According to UKLFI, the auditor failed to comply with OECD Guidelines for Multinational Entities by not reporting the use of funds transferred by the World Bank to pay salaries to terrorists.

PwC responded that the narrow scope of their work did not require them to consider this issue, and DFID revealed to the information commissioner that it did not hold audit reports of any accounts into which funds from the PRDP were disbursed, nor did it hold the terms of reference for the audit of the overall program.

“This revelation means that DFID ministers could not have known where British money was going, as they had claimed in Parliament, nor could they rely on the independent audits of the funds, if they were not aware of the terms of reference of those audits,” said UKLFI in a release. “The position is particularly serious since this misinformation has facilitated the transfer of funds used ‘to encourage and reward murder.’”

The commissioner’s report said that it supported UKLFI’s argument that the public interest in disclosure of the documents was extremely strong in this case since false information provided by DFID appears to have facilitated the continuation of a policy under which large sums of British public money were used to reward and encourage murder.

“The commissioner recognizes that the complainant has cited the PMW report as evidence to support his position.

Furthermore, and in the commissioner’s opinion of arguably more significance, is the fact that similar concerns have been raised in Parliament. In the commissioner’s opinion, this suggests that disclosure would serve a wider public interest,” the commissioner’s letter stated.

“Moreover, in the commissioner’s opinion, the severity of the allegations arguably increases the public interest in the disclosure of information… She has reached this conclusion given the importance of the UK being open and transparent about how it ensures that the aid funds are used appropriately.”

According to PMW, the PA is paying at least NIS 732 million (£170 million) in financial rewards to terrorists and their relatives.

A report released by the watchdog organization in February, based on data gathered from B’Tselem in combination with information from the PA, the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and noted historians, revealed details about the amount of money being paid by the PA to terrorists who are in Israeli prisons and terrorists who were jailed and are currently released. This report likewise included information on relatives of dead terrorists who receive a monthly stipend and wounded terrorists.

PMW’s report was issued around the same time that Israel implemented the “Pay-for-Slay” Law, which instructs the state to deduct and freeze the amount of money the PA pays in salaries to imprisoned terrorists and families of “martyrs” from the tax money it collects for the PA.
The law was passed in July 2018 and was approved for implementation by Israel’s security cabinet this year.

As a result of Israel’s commitment to withholding this tax money, the PA has refused to receive any money from Israel, leading to what is being described as a financial crisis in the territories.

The United States has been supportive of Israel’s decision. In a tweet as recently as this month, US Special Envoy Jason Greenblatt slammed the Palestinian Authority’s funding to terrorists, asking, “Why do donor countries tolerate this?”

“DFID is carefully reviewing the decision made by the Information Commissioner's Office and we will respond to this shortly,” said Department for International Development spokesperson.


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