The Global Network for Rights and Development (GNRD) issued a press release yesterday in response to accusations of money laundering.
GNRD's head office in Stavanger and the home of its founder-president, Loai Deeb, were raided by Norwegian police at the end of May. Deeb was arrested and temporarily held for questioning. (For the benefit of new readers, the full background to the story is here.)
Yesterday's statement said:
"GNRD rejects the accusation that it has operated the laundering of funds that may be derived from criminal activity. GNRD also rejects that there are grounds to prosecute the organisation for money laundering.
"Such a charge probably is based only on speculation about the origins of the funds that GNRD legally has transferred to its bank accounts in Norway: transfers, which have been the basis for its activities in Norway and in several other countries.
"The transfers have gone towards salaries, travel, support for the various projects, such as ‘Right to Play’, water projects, GNRD’s participation as election observers, the holding of conferences including the one lately in Geneva with approximately 200 participants from over 50 countries etc."
While it's good to hear that money donated to GNRD was used for GNRD purposes, this doesn't address the question of whether it came from tainted sources. There are claims, for example, that GNRD's counter-terrorism conference in Geneva was funded by Mohammed Dahlan, the corrupt former head of Palestinian "preventive security" in Gaza.
There are questions to be answered too about the funding of GNRD's various election-observing missions – including the one that enthused about President Sisi's election in Egypt.
However, Norwegian police are not only interested in money received by GNRD but also by its founder-president personally. According to Stavanger Aftenblad, Deeb bought two properties in Norway last year for a total price of 12.3 million kroner ($1.6 million) and paid for them in full without taking out a mortgage.
It has also been reported that Deeb's personal income, which had been around $25,000 a year until 2012, suddenly leapt to $600,000 in 2013.
Yesterday's statement says GNRD's funds come "mainly" from the Middle East, and "especially from private companies in the Middle East". That may well be true, but one question is whether any donor companies have been used as cut-outs, to disguise sources of funding.
Three Middle Eastern companies supporting GNRD (according to information recently deleted from its website) are businesses in the UAE controlled by Loai Deeb.
Of course, it may turn out that everything is in order and the money flowing to GNRD and Deeb is perfectly legitimate; we shall have to await the results of the police investigation to find out. But GNRD's lack of transparency in these matters hasn't helped.
The statement gives what appears to be a figure for GNRD's total running costs, in Norway and elsewhere, of NOK 6.7 million per month. This amounts to slightly more than $10 million a year.
The statement contrasts this with Human Rights Watch where, it says, the total annual budget is more than $240 million. This seems to be based on a mis-reading of HRW's published accounts which show spending last year of $69 million – a lot, but still considerably less than GNRD claims. The $240 million figure refers to assets.
The statement also cites the UN's decision last February to grant GNRD consultative status as evidence of its credentials:
"It goes without saying that GNRD would not [have] achieved such a status at the UN recently unless it was not a real organisation with concrete professional foundation."
Even discounting the double negative in that sentence, this is ridiculous. The decision was made on a simple majority vote, supported by such human rights luminaries as China, Cuba, Iran, Mauritania, Russia and Sudan, while the US accused GNRD of "promulgating false information" on its website and sought a postponement.
The statement ends with some puzzling details about the Norwegian investigation. It says:
"During the search at GNRD in Stavanger Økokrim [Norway's economic crime specialists] took water samples from a fountain in an office, included assorted glass ornaments, wall clocks and more, things that one could hardly see as connected to Økokrim’s charge of money laundering."
Posted by Brian Whitaker
Wednesday, 24 June 2015