A report released by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) reveals that an office within the Obama Administration’s Treasury Department called the Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) granted a non-profit group’s request for a license to pay an organization sanctioned for funding terrorist activities.
Grassley’s staff had investigated World Vision, a non-profit humanitarian organization, and its relationship with the Islamic Relief Agency (ISRA), which had been sanctioned by the United States since 2004 for its funding of terrorist activities, including those of Osama bin Laden.
Grassley stated, “World Vision works to help people in need across the world, and that work is admirable. Though it may not have known that ISRA was on the sanctions list or that it was listed because of its affiliation with terrorism, it should have. Ignorance can’t suffice as an excuse. World Vision’s changes in vetting practices are a good first step, and I look forward to its continued progress.”
Grassley’s website noted, “World Vision only discovered the sanctions issue when another non-profit aid group declined to work with them after doing their own due diligence and finding the affiliation between World Vision and the sanctioned ISRA.”
The report stated:
In a press release, World Vision claimed they were not aware of ISRA’s status before partnering with them and appeared to shift the blame for this incident to the United States government. World Vision articulated two main reasons why they believe the federal government bears responsibility in this incident. First, they claim that on two separate occasions, two different government agencies were notified that World Vision was working with ISRA and neither agency raised any concerns. Second, World Vision argues that the online search tool provided by the Treasury department made it difficult to ascertain whether or not ISRA was a sanctioned entity. …
The United States government placed sanctions on ISRA in 2004 after they had funneled approximately $5 million to Maktab Al-Khidamat, the predecessor to Al- Qaeda controlled by Osama Bin Laden. ISRA’s leadership also engaged in discussions to help relocate Bin Laden to secure safe harbor for him.In the mid-2000’s, ISRA was responsible for moving funds to support a Palestinian terrorist. According to Treasury, when raising funds ISRA was known to display two “collection boxes marked ‘Allah’ and ‘Israel,’ signaling the funds would be directed towards attacks against Israelis.” …
In late September 2014, World Vision’s legal department was notified of ISRA’s potential status as a sanctioned entity. World Vision immediately ceased all payments to ISRA and began investigating whether ISRA was indeed a sanctioned entity. On November 19, 2014, World Vision sent a letter to OFAC requesting clarification of ISRA’s status. The letter also included a request for a temporary license to complete the existing contract with ISRA, despite their status, in the event that ISRA was indeed a sanctioned entity.
According to World Vision, OFAC took longer than expected to respond. During this time, World Vision’s field office in Sudan reported that ISRA and the Sudanese government were applying intense pressure on it to pay money owed for services performed. On January 20, 2015, two months after World Vision submitted its request for clarification to OFAC, World Vision General Counsel sent an email to OFAC informing them of World Vision’s intent to resume its work with ISRA in a week’s time unless it received a response from OFAC confirming ISRA’s sanctioned status.
On January 23, 2015, Treasury responded to World Vision’s November inquiry and informed it that ISRA is indeed a sanctioned entity. Furthermore, in the same letter OFAC denied World Vision’s request for a license to transact with ISRA, stating that authorizing further activities would be “inconsistent with OFAC policy.” On February 19, 2015, World Vision again requested a license to transact with ISRA in order to pay them $125,000 for services rendered. In its request, World Vision stressed that it could face severe legal consequences and even expulsion from Sudan if it did not pay ISRA the monies owed. On May 4, 2015, the Obama Administration’s State Department recommended OFAC grant World Vision’s request for a license to pay ISRA $125,000 in monies owed. The following day, OFAC granted World Vision a specific license to pay ISRA $125,000 only for services rendered.