World Vision calls for fair appeal for ex-employee convicted of embezzlement

(CP) 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."

Halabi was arrested on June 15, 2016, and later accused of diverting $50 million in funds intended for World Vision to support Hamas.

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."

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