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Verdict in World Vision case due within months

CM 24/08/2021 20

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The Beersheba District Court hearing the case of a World Vision official allegedly assisting Hamas may issue its verdict in the next month or so after a five-year saga, with the International Criminal Court and global media watching carefully.
Muhammad el-Halabi has vehemently denied the charges and accused the prosecution and the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) of manufacturing them, coercing a confession to undermine humanitarian organizations in Gaza and dragging out the case.
To date, only the defendant has been unloading on the prosecution, with the state refraining from responding publicly due to concerns of revealing classified intelligence.

Halabi was indicted in August 2016 for smuggling $7.2 million a year to Hamas for buying weapons and building attack tunnels. The funds were supposed to have been used by World Vision for food, humanitarian assistance and aid programs for disabled children.
Neither World Vision nor an Australian government audit found the wrongdoing allegedly uncovered by the Shin Bet.
All of this occurs as Israel is trying to convince the ICC and countries in Europe that its legal system is legitimate and fair to avoid war-crimes trials.
The entrance of the International Criminal Court (ICC) is seen in The Hague March 3, 2011. (credit: REUTERS/JERRY LAMPEN/FILE PHOTO)The entrance of the International Criminal Court (ICC) is seen in The Hague March 3, 2011. (credit: REUTERS/JERRY LAMPEN/FILE PHOTO)
Closing arguments for the prosecution started in the spring and concluded in July, with the defense’s closing arguments due to conclude in the coming days or weeks.
The Justice Ministry had indicated to The Jerusalem Post in March that it would release key points of its closing arguments to the public in response to some of the allegations by the defendant of his rights being abused.
The issue is still under consideration, but a final decision will only be made after the defense finishes its closing arguments, the Post has learned.
Alternatively, the Justice Ministry or the court might decide not to release any information from closing arguments and leave it to the court to decide how much of the case to declassify only at the later verdict stage.
Since March, more allegations have come out from Halabi’s side, including that he was fooled by an undercover informant in detention into confirming details that the informant kept pressuring Halabi to confirm.
According to the defense, Halabi told law-enforcement officials the confession was coerced from the first moment they raised it with him, and the original document recording the confession was lost by police.
The defense said the case should have been tossed in light of the circumstances in which the confession was given and that the police record of what was said is an inauthentic photocopy, raising questions of a cover-up.
In addition, the defense has claimed that World Vision did not even transfer any materials to Gaza at some of the crossing points where the prosecution says Halabi made illegal transfers to Hamas.
Although these allegations are new to the public, the prosecution has been aware of them and responded to them behind closed doors throughout the trial, the Post has learned.
While the prosecution’s responses are classified at this stage, it appears it would acknowledge having used an undercover informant but would say this is a standard approved tactic and that no illegal pressure was applied.
Moreover, the prosecution would point out that the court had already rejected any allegations of a coerced confession earlier in the case and that the only question left is how much weight to give the confession.
Regarding the allegation of a lost document, it appears the prosecution would likely express regret but reject any conspiracy theories, point out that this is not the first case such an error occurred and say the defense has not flagged any specific issues to invalidate the authenticity of the copy of the confession.
Regarding the allegation of transferring money at border crossings, the prosecution would respond that Halabi was a clever operator and sometimes used different organizations or names to move materials, while using World Vision as his main laundering tool.
In March, Halabi’s father, Khalil, told the Post his son Muhammad had “brought conclusive evidence and testimonies of the employees of the organization and internal and external international auditors, as well as contractors and even farmers, who all testified that there was no diversion of any funds from the activities of the organization.”
Khalil el-Halabi said this shows that allegations regarding Muhammad misappropriating humanitarian funds for Hamas are unfounded.
Furthermore, “at least three defense experts confirmed that the existing ‘evidence’ is clearly unreliable and untrue… based on limited preliminary examination only… Due to the confidentiality imposed on me by the state, I am not allowed to comment on the nature of the evidence,” he said.
The defense has called exactly three expert witnesses, likely relating to finance or auditing, as well as employees of World Vision, contractors and farmers involved with how the NGO’s funds were actually spent, he added.
The defense also claims it did not see all of the evidence.
The Post has discovered that the prosecution would say Halabi used tactics such as falsifying documentation or concealing the use of certain funds by using other entities to hide his use of World Vision as a financial laundering instrument, just as he did with physical transfers of materials for Hamas.
Further, the prosecution has said even though the public has not seen the full evidence, the defense has.
At a procedural level, “the defendant was questioned by the prosecution in court for a period of six months, and yet the prosecution attributes this length of time to the defense,” Khalil el-Halabi said.
“Even when the trial was set for closing arguments, the state asked to postpone,” he said, and only days before closing arguments “the prosecution asked to bring more new evidence and many witnesses” to cover for its weak case.
The prosecution would acknowledge some of the case delays related to it, but it would double-down on most of the case delays relating to the defense’s numerous maneuvers.
There was also a substantial delay at the outset of the case when the prosecution hoped there would be a plea bargain.
In retrospect, this may have been wasted time, but the prosecution would say there is no way to know whether such negotiations will work unless you try.

Source: Jerusalem Post

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