Malaysia can’t rule out if millions in donations went to Hamas

Malaysia’s government can’t rule out whether a local charity funneled millions of dollars to Hamas, according to officials familiar with the matter, as it probes the group for allegedly supporting a conservative Islamist organization in the Southeast Asian nation.

Malaysia’s anti-graft body on Oct. 17 froze as many as 41 bank accounts of the Aman Palestin Berhad charity organization, which contained nearly $15 million, over the alleged misuse of public donations. It also raided the charity’s office as part of an investigation regarding offenses under money laundering and terrorist financing laws.

Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim has been the staunchest advocate of the Palestinian cause in Southeast Asia, saying last month that Malaysia would not recognize what he says is a unilateral attempt by the US to restrict support of Hamas. Malaysian leaders have a long history of friendly ties with the group, designated a terrorist organization by the European Union and US.

Malaysia is more concerned about whether the charity has links with Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia, an organization that backs the imposition of Sharia law in the country, the people said. While the government has oversight over state donations to Palestinian causes, the official said those from charities could be subject to fraud or wind up in the wrong places. 

Aman Palestin didn’t immediately respond to an emailed request for comment. Officials at the Malaysian Prime Minister’s Office also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

While Malaysia has long cultivated ties with Hamas, the revelation may shed light into how the group could continue to secure funding from abroad after attacking Israel Oct. 7, killing some 1,200 people and taking dozens hostage, including children. That assault triggered a war between Israel and Gaza-based Hamas.

Any evidence that money flowed to Hamas after its Oct. 7 attack would further erode relations with the US. In November, Anwar told parliament that Malaysia will continue to back Hamas despite the threat of US sanctions.

While Iran is seen as the biggest financial backer of Hamas, Aman Palestin is one of two Malaysian-based entities on a running list of organizations accused by Israel’s National Bureau of Counter Terror Financing of directly aiding Hamas’ military.

“You see Qatar, and Turkey — you see other places — but Malaysia in our eyes is one of the most important hubs that Hamas used and is using in many aspects,” said Uzi Shaya, a former high-ranking officer in Mossad, Israel’s foreign intelligence agency. 

Gaza Visit

Israel and Malaysia do not have diplomatic ties. Malaysia has cultivated ties with the Palestinian Authority and Palestinian groups through the provision of humanitarian aid, offering political support and maintaining reciprocal embassies. Then-Prime Minister Najib Razak visited the Gaza Strip a decade ago when he was in power.

An investigation by Israel’s internal security service in 2014 alleged that Hamas militants were sent to Malaysia for paragliding training as part of plans to infiltrate Israel and murder civilians, something Malaysian officials strongly denied. Israeli authorities likewise deny a Malaysian accusation that Mossad agents killed a Palestinian man linked to Hamas in Kuala Lumpur in 2018. –BLOOMBERG