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Australian probe clears World Vision over Gaza case

Mar 21. 2017
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By Agence France-Presse

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JERUSALEM - An Australian government probe has found no evidence taxpayer money was misused by the World Vision NGO in the Gaza Strip, after Israel alleged millions of dollars were diverted to Hamas.

In August 2016, Israel accused World Vision's Gaza head Mohammed al-Halabi of siphoning off millions of dollars per year to the Islamist group which rules the Palestinian enclave, claims the NGO said it had seen no evidence for.

    Australia had given millions of dollars to the charity's work in the Palestinian territories in previous years and immediately suspended its funding for their Gaza programmes, with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) announcing a review.

    "The review uncovered nothing to suggest any diversion of government funds," DFAT said in a statement sent to AFP on Tuesday.

    Halabi's court case is ongoing but his lawyers have accused the prosecution of refusing to hand over much of the evidence.

    World Vision itself is also conducting an independent review of its operations to determine whether any graft occurred.

    DFAT said funding to World Vision's programmes would remain frozen pending the result of the probe and Halabi's trial.

    Tim Costello, chief advocate for World Vision Australia, said he was "very pleased and very relieved" at the findings.

    "Our own ongoing audit has not uncovered any diversion of funds," he told AFP, though he stressed it would not be finalised until the summer. 

    "For DFAT to say there was no diversion of funds is very welcome."

    A spokesman for Israel's foreign ministry declined to comment, saying it preferred to allow the trial to play out.

    

    Pro-Putin MP Iosif Kobzon, himself a popular singer, slammed Williams' offer as "idiotic," in a comment to RIA Novosti state news agency, saying Russia has "plenty of its own singers."

    "We have no need of British defenders of our culture," said Kobzon, who is deputy head of the lower house's culture committee.

    The offer came as Russia's participation in the contest in Kiev in May hangs in the balance due to a political wrangle.

    Ukraine, which is hosting the event this year, said Monday it has already drawn up the paperwork to potentially ban Russian singer Yuliya Samoilova because she has performed in Crimea since its annexation by Moscow. 

    Samoilova, a 27-year-old who uses a wheelchair, was selected by Channel One as Russia's contestant without a public vote. She had performed at the Paralympic Games hosted by Russia in Sochi in 2014.

    Russia in turn has warned it could boycott the event if Samoilova is banned, with Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov telling journalists Monday that "as far I understand, the option of a replacement doesn't exist."

    Malakhov asked Samoilova if she would like Williams to come along to support her at the contest. "With pleasure, I'm all for it," she said.

    

 

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