In 2001, the US Treasury hailed as a step to choke al Qaeda’s funding the designation by the US and the UN of top Muslim Brotherhood financier Youssef Nada as a global terrorist. Last month he was removed from the list.
Youssef Nada set up a number of companies for his dubious funding activities
The UN announcement gave no reason for the delisting, but US officials said Nada's removal was part of an effort to clean up the lists, which had been hastily compiled in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks on New York and Washington.
His removal comes at a time that efforts by the US and its allies to quietly engage listed groups like the Taliban and Hamas are raising questions about the effectiveness of the terrorism lists because they restrict governments' ability to explore bringing militants into the fold.
In a statement, the US Treasury said the US supports "the removal of those individuals who are no longer appropriate for listing pursuant to that specific regime." The statement noted however that Nada and two of his companies delisted by the UN - Waldenberg AG of Liechtenstein and Youssef M. Nada & Co. GMBH of Vienna - remain on the US Treasury list.
Nada, a 79-year old Egyptian-born, Swiss-based octogenarian, who made a fortune supplying cement to Libya and Saudi Arabia, has denied having a relationship with al Qaeda, but has expressed support for Hamas. Nada also headed the US and UN-listed Al Taqwa Islamic investment group with branches in Switzerland, Liechtenstein and the Bahamas.
Osama bin Laden and his associates are thought to have benefitted from Nada's organizations
US authorities accused Al Taqwa of handling funds for associates of Osama bin Laden. Al Taqwa's shareholders included prominent Islamists such as controversial Qatar-based Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi, a Muslim Brother who heads the European Council for Fatwa and Research.
Nada's address book, a copy of which this reporter acquired several years ago, reads like a who's who of people the US and other powers suspect or in the past have suspected of funding militant Islamist groups. Nada's importance in the Islamist movement persuaded Al Jazeera to broadcast in two hour segments a 10-hour interview with him shortly after 9/11.
Al Taqwa featured prominently in Swiss proceedings against Saudi multimillionaire Yassin al Qadi, who was also listed by the US and the UN as an al Qaeda financier. The proceedings were initiated at the behest of the US, according to a Swiss investigator, but charges that al Qadi had transferred millions of dollars to al Qaeda through Swiss bank accounts were dropped in 2007.
Swiss and French intelligence sources said the investigation involved al Qadi's relationship to another Saudi businessman, Ibrahim Afandi. Afandi, whose name appears in Nada's phonebook, was an executive board member of a Saudi charity, the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO). In cooperation with the Saudi government, several chapters of the IIRO were closed and listed by the US and other countries as terrorist entities.
Beyond raising questions about the purpose of the lists and the way they were compiled, Nada's release comes at a time that the Muslim Brotherhood is experiencing a crackdown by the regime of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak as the country prepares for next year's most crucial presidential election in recent history.
European concerns about terror list
European diplomats say sustaining the UN sanctions against Nada was no longer realistic after the Swiss Parliament's foreign-relations committee last month approved a proposal to stop enforcing international financial sanctions in cases where there is little evidence to justify maintaining someone on the UN list. The proposal follows a European Court of Justice ruling in 2007 in a case brought by al Qadi in a bid to achieve the unfreezing of his assets in various European countries.
Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood has allegedly played a major part in Nada's dealings
The court overturned the sanctions imposed against al Qadi by individual European governments on the grounds that he had not been afforded the opportunity of a judicial review. Earlier, Swiss authorities closed their investigation of Nada without issuing criminal charges against him. Italy also halted proceedings against Nada.
The European court ruling was echoed by Martin Sheinin, the Finish UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism. Sheinin warned in 2008 that the lack of transparency in the compiling of the UN list could produce "a wave of litigation and the credibility of the overall United Nations counterterrorism framework would be at risk."
US Treasury Department Assistant Secretary for Terror Finance and Financial Crime David Cohen, speaking in early April to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, rejected European criticism saying it had "led some to doubt the long-term viability of the UN designation process."
Cohen said Europe failed to take into account efforts to streamline the lists and increase transparency. He said a comprehensive review of the UN list would be completed by June. "These reviews involve an extremely thorough and detailed analysis of the facts around each designation to determine whether a sufficient basis continues to exist to maintain a designation or, alternatively, that a designee should be delisted," he said
US upset about EU intransigence
Cohen further lashed out at a European Parliament decision in February not to share data with the US Terrorist Finance Tracking Program (TFTP) designed to track funding in part by gaining access to Swift, a Belgium-based company that operates a worldwide messaging system used by the global financial system to transmit bank transaction information.
Swift's operations are overseen by a committee of representatives of the National Bank of Belgium, the European Central Bank, the Bank of England, the US Federal Reserve and the Bank of Japan. Cohen charged that the European Parliament had "created a gap in our ability to track financial transactions of terrorist organizations around the world" and had put "the continued operation of the TFTP in doubt."
A courtly, old-style gentleman Nada said he had applied a year ago to be removed from the UN list and for his assets to be unfrozen. He said he was puzzled by the fact that he had not also been taken off the US Treasury list.
Nada said he had "no intention of suing anyone" for compensation but would seek the release of assets that still were frozen.
Under Swiss law, once the investigation was closed, Nada was allowed to review the basis of the charges against him. These, he said, included a Jordanian allegation that he had funded al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab Al-Zarqawy as well as Egyptian and Israeli press reports that he had financed Hamas to the tune of $60 million (44 million euros).
"I can now confidently say that the charges brought against me were unfounded and that is why they have all been proven wrong," Nada said.
Author: James M. Dorsey
Editor: Rob Mudge