Iran’s Charity Loophole

House Dems push for Iran sanctions exemptions

Iranian Red Crescent / AP
• October 5, 2012 5:49 pm


A delegation of House Democrats is urging President Barack Obama’s administration to extend an exemption on Iran sanctions—a move that could allow certain groups linked to terrorism to benefit from American philanthropic donations, experts say.

Twelve lawmakers, including Muslim Rep. Keith Ellison (D., Minn.), petitioned the Obama administration Thursday to extend a temporary waiver permitting various organizations and individuals to skirt U.S. sanctions on Iran.

The waiver, set to expire Oct. 5, enabled American-based nonprofit groups to expedite the "donation of funds" and shipment of "humanitarian relief" to Iranian charities that are purportedly helping their citizens recover from a deadly earthquake.

Experts warn that the well-intentioned effort to provide the Iranian people relief has actually benefited Iranian charities linked to terrorist activities such as bombings, weapons trafficking, and incitement against Israel.

"Everyone who watches Iran knows the regime uses charities as part of an asymmetrical warfare strategy," said Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon adviser on Iran and Iraq. "Just because Iran describes something as a charity doesn’t mean we should accept their definition."

"If the Iranians truly wanted help, they would accept American relief workers who could keep a tight eye to ensure that the cash went to the earthquake victims," said Rubin, noting that Iran’s principal charity, the Imam Khomeini Relief Committee (IKRC), has been cited by the U.S. government for supporting the terror group Hezbollah.

The Obama administration eased its regulatory procedures regarding charitable aid earlier this year after the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) orchestrated an advocacy campaign, the New York Times reported.

NIAC, an Iranian-American advocacy group, has long been accused of being a lobbying front for the Iranian regime, though it denies this charge.

The NIAC campaign led the Treasury Department to alter its policies, giving "high priority to processing" aid applications for Iran.

Now that the waiver is set to expire Oct. 5, NIAC galvanized several members of Congress to pressure Obama to reauthorize the charitable exemption.

The administration has yet to announce whether it will extend the waiver, and did not respond to a Washington Free Beacon request for comment.

The pro-charity lawmakers, led by Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D., Ohio), ask that the administration "take needed additional steps to ensure humanitarian goods that are legally permitted under this waiver … are able to reach the people of Iran."

Donations, the legislators claim, are needed to provide basic sundries for Iranians affected by earthquakes.

"We are concerned that the expiration of the earthquake relief waiver will hinder ongoing relief and reconstruction efforts at a time when it is still critically needed," the lawmakers write.

However, a number of the Iranian charities that benefit from such donations are closely tied to the Iranian regime, as well as to various terrorist actors across the Middle East, experts told the Free Beacon.

"A lot of the charities … are indeed under the control of the IRGC," or the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, said Clare Lopez, a former CIA operations officer who currently serves as a senior fellow at the Center for Security Policy, a national security group. The IRGC plays a key role in Iran’s clandestine nuclear enrichment program.

"With a lot of these groups controlled by the IRGC, a good deal [of their resources] goes to corruption … and other parts of it go to the nuclear program and weapons of mass destruction," Lopez said. "A number of these groups have been sanctioned by Treasury because they’re known to be linked to the IRGC" and certain terrorist outfits.

All relief work relating to the earthquake has been "taken over by the Revolutionary Guards, the Red Crescent, and the state-run Imam Khomeini Relief Committee," the Telegraph reported in August. The regime has cracked down on the delivery of services by independent relief workers and organizations.

The IKRC has been sanctioned by the Treasury Department for its connections to Hezbollah, a long time supplicant of the Iranian regime.

In 2010, the Obama administration froze the assets of the IKRC’s affiliate in Lebanon for "being owned or controlled by Hezbollah and for providing financial and material support to Hezbollah and its director," according to a statement released at the time.

"The IKRC has helped fund and operate Hezbollah youth training camps, which have been used to recruit future Hezbollah members and operatives," the Treasury stated. "Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah has acknowledged the IKRC branch in Lebanon as one of Hezbollah's openly-functioning institutions linked to and funded by Iran."

The so-called charity "and its assets are under the control of Iran's supreme leader," according to an investigative report by the American Enterprise Institute. "It receives government funding, donations from private individuals both inside and outside Iran, and religious taxes, and it engages in fundraising activities outside Iran."

The Treasury Department also cited several senior IRGC officials who are close to the Iranian regime, and who potentially have allies in organizations like the IKRC, experts explained.

"This is why back in 1997, we had to evacuate the U.S. Embassy in Tajikistan when the Imam Khomeini Relief Committee moved in next door, and why, 13 years later, the Treasury Department caught the same group in cahoots with Hezbollah," said Rubin, who recently wrote about the issue for Commentary magazine. "Something tells me that the Iranian charity was doing more than distributing food and medicine."

Another top Iranian charity touted by NIAC and its allies is the Iranian Red Crescent, which liaises with the International Committee of the Red Cross, a global humanitarian organization.

The Iranian Red Crescent organization has sent ships to the Gaza Strip in an effort to provoke the Israeli military and break the Jewish state’s naval blockade of the terrorist-rich territory.

"U.S. intelligence suspects that the group is actually providing weaponry and other military equipment," rather than humanitarian aid to the Palestinians, Rubin noted in Commentary.

Iran has been a close ally of Hamas in the Gaza Strip and has helped arm the terrorist group, according to reports. In addition to the illicit tunnels that run through Egypt into the Gaza, humanitarian aid shipments have been used as cover for the smuggling of weapons in the area.

Lopez and Rubin chided lawmakers for participating in NIAC’s campaign to extend humanitarian aid waivers.

"They don’t understand this," Lopez said. "It’s a charitable instinct, … but they just don’t know all of this."

The NIAC campaign is actually about weakening sanctions on Tehran, Rubin alleged.

"Look, let’s be real," he said. "Offering help in the wake of the quakes last August made sense. But this latest move isn’t about earthquakes. If NIAC spent half as much time condemning Iran’s terrorism and its repeated abuse of charities as it does trying to subvert sanctions, it could achieve something."

"Maybe it’s time for Iran’s lobbyists to explain why Iran derives billions of dollars each year from oil, but can’t find enough cash to rebuild six villages, and repair 30 others," Rubin said. "Could it be, I don’t know, but just maybe that the Iranian regime cares more for each centrifuge than it does for its citizens?"