The Evangelical humanitarian charity World Vision is standing by one of its former employees, whom it contends has been wrongfully convicted of embezzling millions from the organization and supporting the Palestinian terror organization Hamas.
World Vision released a statement announcing the conviction of Mohammad El Halabi, who formerly served as the organization's Gaza zonal manager, by the Beersheva District Court in Israel Wednesday.
"In our view there have been irregularities in the trial process and a lack of substantive, publicly available evidence," the World Vision statement reads. "We support Mohammad's intent to appeal the decision, and call for a fair and transparent appeal process based on the facts of the case."
Kevin Jenkins, who served as World Vision International CEO at the time, pushed back on the idea that Halabi embezzled $50 million from World Vision in an August 2016 statement.
"World Vision's cumulative operating budget in Gaza for the past ten years was approximately US$22.5 million, which makes the alleged amount of up to US$50 million being diverted hard to reconcile," Jenkins said. "Mohammed El Halabi was the manager of our Gaza operations only since October 2014; before that time he managed only portions of the Gaza budget. World Vision's accountability processes cap the amount individuals in management positions at his level to a signing authority of US$15,000."
Halabi pleaded not guilty to the allegations against him. World Vision subsequently conducted an investigation of its operations in Gaza. World Vision previously reported, "The investigation, completed in July of 2017, found no evidence of diversion of funds and no material evidence that Halabi was part of or working for Hamas."
World Vision elaborated on its belief in Halabi's innocence in a January 2022 statement.
"We have been closely following Mohammad's lengthy trial. Many of our staff have participated as witnesses, and our staff, often alongside representatives from other organisations, have been present as observers in every public trial session," the statement reads. "After five years of trial proceedings, which have now concluded as we await a verdict, we have not seen anything that makes us question our conclusion that Mohammad is innocent of all the charges."
"Moreover, Mohammad so steadfastly asserts his innocence that he has consistently refused any plea agreement, even when the sentences offered reportedly would have had him free by now. This process has dramatically and negatively affected children and their families in Gaza, including Mohammad's own family."
Some have wondered if the allegation that Halabi collaborated with Hamas could constitute an attempt at retaliation against World Vision for criticizing the nation of Israel.
In 2015, Steve Haas, who served as vice president and chief catalyst for World Vision U.S. at the time, wrote an essay posted by the Lausanne Movement asserting that Christian support for Israel amounted to a backing of "the largest and longest occupation of another people group in modern history."
Haas also chastised the "oppressive Israeli legal system," echoing Archbishop Desmond Tutu's characterization of the Israeli regime as "oppression on steroids."
The trial and investigation have had an adverse impact on World Vision's ability to do business in Gaza.
"We are saddened that our work helping Gaza's most vulnerable children has been disrupted for so long, and we hope to return to Gaza," Wednesday's statement reads. "We remain committed to improving the lives of vulnerable children in the region, and hope we will be able to advance our humanitarian work in the context of our longstanding cooperation with the relevant Israeli and Palestinian authorities."
The conviction comes despite independent auditors and the Australian government finding no evidence of wrongdoing on Halabi's part.
More than four years after Halabi's arrest, a report compiled by the U.S. Senate Finance Committee criticized World Vision's ties to a group it worked with and funded in Sudan accused of funding terrorism.
The committee maintained that World Vision "had access to the appropriate public information and should have known how, but failed to, properly vet [the Islamic Relief Agency] as a subgrantee, resulting in the transfer of U.S. taxpayer dollars to an organization with an extensive history of supporting terrorist organizations and terrorists, including Osama Bin Laden."
The report stated that World Vision worked with the IRA from 2013 through 2015 to provide relief in Sudan.
In a previous statement to The Christian Post, World Vision expressed gratitude that "the committee staff's report praised the changes we have made to our vetting process" and stressed that the organization would take the committee staff's recommendations seriously "to improve the effectiveness of our blocked parties screening processes."
The website Charity Navigator gives World Vision a four-star rating, an "exceptional" rating signaling that donors can "give with confidence" to the organization. It also identified World Vision's annual revenue as more than $1.2 billion in the fiscal year 2020.
Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: email@example.com