Bahrain Curbs Shady Outfits’ Fund-Raising

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The Kingdom of Bahrain is now finally planning to come down heavily on attempts to raise funds in the guise of charity. A senior bureaucrat in the Ministry of Social Development has called for the “need to obtain prior authorization for fund-raising licensing procedures before proceeding to raise funds and accepting donations for charitable purposes.”

Given that the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), namely Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman and Qatar, are tax-free enclaves with little to differentiate between one’s legitimate earnings and ill-gotten wealth as you walk down the street except your word, the free movement of funds – in cash or bank transfer – was quite easy in the good old days.

Those were comparatively peaceful times, wars if any were fought between two nations, terrorist outfits were never centre-stage and the Internet was in its nascent era. There was little oversight as large sums moved between individuals or across borders, no or few curbs, and hardly any questions were asked as to the source of the funds. And this was so not necessarily because the authorities trusted you but also because the governments had not yet woken up to the necessity of framing laws for the purpose of any oversight.

Bahrain curbs fundraising of shady charities
Bahrain works to curb fundraising of shady charities.

But things changed after 9/11 as the prospect of terror stared every wealthy nation in the face and all manner of new terrorist outfits cropped up while the Internet strengthened the hands and reach of the veterans. In the regions close to the GCC countries one had heard of the Taliban and Al Qaeda but now ISIS raised its ugly head and Hezbollah, thus far confined to the outskirts of Beirut, began to eye the region and even government agencies such as the Iranian Revolutionary Guards found it convenient to play games in countries like Bahrain through their proxies.

To support their sleeper cells and sympathizers in the region the handlers of these outfits’ operators needed to send them funds. And since raw cash in transit was prone to seizure, the most common and convenient route they could come up with was to set up bogus charities which conveniently merged with the landscape of the few genuine ones and then tell them to seek and raise funds to which the thuggish outfits would contribute without raising suspicion. They could then even open ostensibly legitimate bank accounts in the charities’ names and then openly disburse funds.

The latest Bahrain move should go a long way to curbing this trend. Under the move, any outfit will have to apply at least two months in advance to open shop and raise any funds during which the government will have ample opportunity to go into the antecedents of the applicants and verify their credentials and purpose. And to further restrict the manoeuvrability of such outfits, the time period to collect funds has been set at one year as opposed to them becoming permanent fixtures as is the case in many instances at present.

Brij Sharma is an Indian journalist and editor based in Bahrain. Brij tells us the interesting stories we don’t usually hear from the middle east country.