Supreme Court orders Halabi to remain in detention pending trial verdict

Next World Vision court date in March

A gavel in a court of law (photo credit: REUTERS)
A gavel in a court of law
(photo credit: REUTERS)
 The Supreme Court has ordered World Vision Operations Manager Mohammad El Halabi to remain in detention until at least May 19, pending the verdict in his trial on charges of assisting Hamas on a variety of fronts.
In a Tuesday decision only now being reported, Justice Menachem Mazuz said that Halabi both posed a danger and was a flight risk, which, along with the case moving toward a conclusion, meant the courts should not release him to house arrest.
With four-and-half-years having passed since Halabi was indicted in the Beersheba District Court, it is still unclear when there will be a verdict about whether he was a humanitarian who has been unfairly targeted or working with Hamas or both.
Updates from Halabi’s lawyer, Maher Hana, and the Justice Ministry have indicated that closing arguments were scheduled for March 3.
However, Hana argued to Mazuz that the closing arguments and the district court’s deliberation and composing of the verdict could still see Halabi held in detention far beyond May 19.
Supporters of Halabi have also said that the prosecution at earlier stages in the case had offered a three year jail sentence as part of a plea bargain.
In that light, Halabi having to serve already five years and remain in prison for a continued indefinite period would make little sense since even a conviction could lead to his release based on time already served.
Mazuz responded saying that motions filed by Hana had caused many of the delays since the prosecution concluded its case back in April 2018.
The Supreme Court justice also said that the trial had been robust including the calling of over 40 witnesses and a mini-trial on aspects of the evidence.
Halabi was indicted in August 2016 for allegedly using World Vision as a front for smuggling $7.2 million a year to Hamas for buying weapons and building attack tunnels.
This was instead of being used by the humanitarian organization for food, humanitarian assistance, and aid programs for disabled children as earmarked.
The indictment said that World Vision operated in 100 countries and employed 46,000 people, but had fallen victim to a complex Hamas takeover scheme led by Halabi.
At the time, World Vision denied the allegations and said it was “shocked” since it had regular internal and independent audits and evaluations as well as a broad range of internal controls to ensure aid reached intended beneficiaries.
NGO Monitor has filed detailed reports to critique these audits as inadequate and for avoiding asking tougher questions about dual use items which could look innocent on paper, but which could be used by Hamas.
Eventually, Australia, which was funding the World Vision Gaza project, cut its funding, though an audit its government performed did not find the wrongdoing allegedly uncovered by the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).
Despite being indicted in August 2016, it is still unclear when there will be a verdict from the Beersheba District Court.
In addition, the legal proceedings themselves have been rife with irregularities in restricting evidence and how Halabi’s lawyer maintains information he learns during the closed proceedings much more typical of Israel’s military courts than what is typical in Israeli civilian courts.
In April 2018 and again in July 2020, the High Court of Justice rejected Hana’s request to intervene in the case to compel the prosecution to play by more standard civilian court rules.