Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Taxation without Security

Michael Gove, M.P., has continued to draw attention to issues of terrorism, extremism and finance. On his website, he carries part of a report of a debate from the 27th November 2006. I reproduce a large section below:

On 10 October, the Chancellor said that it was

“upon meeting and overcoming the challenge of global terrorism that all else we value depends”.

In his speech on that date he outlined the Treasury’s role as the lead Department for our security. He specifically mentioned that the Treasury would have two responsibilities—interdicting terrorist financing and tackling the forces that encourage the separatism, extremism and isolation on which terrorism thrives.

In his speech, the Chancellor congratulated himself on

“the most comprehensive and expeditious asset freeze the Treasury has ever undertaken”.

But what exactly has the Treasury been able to seize from those suspected of involvement in terrorist activity? The true figure, as revealed following patient detective work by my hon. Friend the Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Fallon), amounts to only £476,000 since 2002. That figure compares with some $200 million frozen by the American authorities. The Treasury’s effort is tiny by comparison. Its dragnet has caught minnows, not sharks. It has also had significant holes in it. As my hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs. Villiers) pointed out, Abu Hamza—now, happily, convicted of terrorist offences—whose assets were supposed to have been frozen, was able to transfer ownership of his home to his son, allowing his family to play the property market. How could Abu Hamza do that? It was because of a loophole that the Government had failed to address. The initial order, introduced in 2001, froze only funds, not assets. No change was made in that order until last month, just as the news of Abu Hamza’s situation was breaking in the newspapers. The loophole existed for four years and allowed someone convicted of terrorist offences to play the property market with public money.

Another area of profound concern was reported in The Sunday Telegraph yesterday. The European Union has stepped in to prevent the details of bank transfers being released to the US authorities when they fear that those transfers may materially affect terrorist activity. The European Union has ruled that privacy must come before security, but it will allow those same bank transfers to be scrutinised for taxation purposes. The Chancellor, in his speech on 10 October, stressed that he and Hank Paulson, the US Treasury Secretary, would take proactive steps to ensure that no regulation came between us and our security. Why are those EU regulations still in place, despite the Chancellor’s brave words? In those three specific areas, the Treasury has not dealt effectively with terrorist financing, despite the Chancellor’s putting the subject at the centre of his pattern of activities for the year.

In his speech, the Chancellor raised other real concerns about the way in which terrorism thrives as a result of the activity of extremist organisations. In a speech to the Foreign Policy Centre earlier this year, the Prime Minister pointed out that the threat that we face is not just physical but ideological. That ideological threat is rooted in the particular twisting of Islam known as Islamism, which has been propagated by organisations such as the Muslim Brotherhood. That organisation has a UK branch known as the Muslim Association of Britain, and it is the UK branch of the organisation known in the Palestinian territories as Hamas. However, there has been no effective scrutiny by the Government or the Treasury of the Muslim Association of Britain’s activities or funding.

Crucially, the Muslim Association of Britain and its most prominent spokesman, Dr. Azzam Tamimi, now run the Finsbury Park mosque for which Sheikh Abu Hamza was previously responsible. Abu Hamza may be behind bars, and his assets may, at last, have been effectively frozen, but the mosque from which he preached hatred is now under the control of a man who was responsible for praising suicide bombing, and who has said that the state of Israel will eventually be destroyed and replaced by an Islamic state. The Government allowed that to happen on their watch, and they also allowed the Muslim Association of Britain to play a key role in the Government’s own watchdog body for mosques, the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board. How can we accept the Government’s claims that they take terrorism seriously when they are putting foxes in charge of the chicken coop?

I mentioned Hamas. Following brave reporting by John Ware, the investigative reporter who works for “Panorama”, one charity in this country was identified as having direct links with Hamas and terrorist fundraising. That charity is Interpal, which had been investigated by the Charity Commission. However, John Ware’s report revealed new, troubling details, including the fact that one of Interpal’s trustees, Mr. Ibrahim Hewitt, was appointed by the Government to their “Preventing Extremism Together” taskforce. Mr. Ware and others have asked the Charity Commission to look again at Interpal’s operation, and the operation of other charities that are linked with terrorism.

We await a comprehensive report—the Chancellor has promised it three times, but he has still not delivered it—that assesses the way in which charities have been used as a shield to promote terrorist financing and fundraising. Will the Minister ensure that, when the report is eventually published, the Charity Commission is given new powers to investigate proactively groups that spread terror and proselytise for extremism, under the cloak of charitable activity?

To be fair to the Government, two charities have been interdicted following action by the Treasury: Sanabel and al-Haramain. Those two charities are significant, because both are Saudi-based. In the United States Senate, the senior senator for New York, the democrat Charles Schumer, pointed out that Saudi-sponsored activity was responsible for the hijacking of moderate Islam and the spread of fundamentalist doctrine in schools, mosques and prisons. In a submission to the US Senate, Steven Emerson has pointed out the way in which organisations use the cloak of charitable activity to proselytise for an extremist agenda. In many cases, they choose to work through the direct funding of mosques.

There are some 1,600 mosques in Britain, most of them exemplary houses of instruction that provide spiritual nourishment to our fellow citizens, and that teach them in a tradition that all of us would think admirable. However, there are mosques—some with direct relationships with Saudi Arabia—that do not cleave to the moderate mainstream path taken by the majority of British Muslims. I shall mention two of them. One subject of concern is the East London mosque, which is one of the largest in Britain. Its president, Dr. Muhammad Abdul Bari, is the chairman of the Muslim Council of Britain, but the speaker invited to open the mosque, Sheikh al-Sudais, had preached sermons in his native Saudi Arabia in which he described Jewish people as pigs and monkeys. He has called Hindus idol-worshippers to whom it would be wrong to speak sweetly. That is an example of Saudi influence raising profound concerns.

An even more profound concern arises in connection with the plans, in east London, for the erection of the largest mosque—indeed, the largest house of worship—in the country. It is intended to accommodate between 40,000 and 70,000 worshippers, and it is estimated that it will cost between £100 million and £300 million. The mosque, which is being built by an organisation called Tablighi Jamaat, raises profound concerns, not least because that organisation has been described by French intelligence as an “antechamber of fundamentalism”. Two of the 7/7 bombers had direct links with the Tablighi Jamaat mosque in Dewsbury. Richard Reid, the shoe-bomber, had links with the organisation, as did John Walker Lindh, the so-called American Taliban. How can an organisation that, according to the Charity Commission, records an income of just £500,000 a year, afford to build a mosque that will cost anything between £100 million and £300 million?

It is my contention that we need a thorough and bipartisan investigation by the House into the foreign funding of extremism in this country. We can learn a lot from the United States, and the way in which the Senate used its investigative tools to work out exactly how a noble religion is being subverted by extremists. I am sure that the Chancellor is sincere in his determination to combat terrorism and root out the extremism that sustains it, but unless he shows a greater degree of urgency in dealing with the problem, and a greater attention to detail when matters are brought before Ministers, and unless he empowers the Charity Commission and other agencies to use proactive investigatory powers, I am afraid that we will always be on the back foot in one of the most vital battles of our time.
This all tends to speak for itself, but I have highlighted in bold one section that I find astonishing. The European Union does not allow the examination of suspicious bank transfers in the course of investigations of possible terrorist activity, but does allow scrutiny of the same transfers for taxation purposes. Actions speak louder than words, and no more dramatic illustration could be found for two salient points:

1. European governments are not serious about the fight against Islamic terrorist activity.

2. Taxation trumps all; our governments are so addicted to the wholesale confiscation of our money that they put this before people's lives and freedoms.

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