x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

US groups helped fund Dutch anti-Islam campaigner Wilders

Philadelphia think tank funded Mr Wilders' case in 2010 and again last year against charges of inciting racial hatred.

AMSTERDAM / NEW YORK // Anti-Islam groups in the United States have provided financial support to Geert Wilders, a Dutch anti-immigration campaigner who is seeking re-election to his country's parliament this week.

While the support is not illegal in the Netherlands, it sheds light on the international connections of Mr Wilders, whose Freedom Party is the least transparent Dutch parliamentary group and a rallying point for Europe's far right.

Mr Wilders' party is self-funded, unlike other Dutch parties that are subsidised by the government. It does not, therefore, have to meet the same disclosure requirements.

Groups in the US seeking to counter Islamic influence in the West said that they funded police protection and paid legal costs for Mr Wilders, whose party is in fourth place in opinion polls before tomorrow's election.

Mr Wilders' ideas - a halt to non-western immigration and bans on Muslim headscarves and the construction of mosques - have struck a chord in mainstream politics beyond the Netherlands.

France banned clothing that covers the face in April last year and Belgium followed suit a few months later. Switzerland barred the construction of minarets in a referendum in 2009.

The Middle East Forum, a pro-Israeli think tank based in Philadelphia, funded Mr Wilders' legal defence in 2010 and last year against Dutch charges of inciting racial hatred, said its director, Daniel Pipes. The Middle East Forum has a stated goal, according to its website, of protecting the "freedom of public speech of anti-Islamist authors, promoting American interests in the Middle East and protecting the constitutional order from Middle Eastern threats". It sent money directly to Mr Wilders' lawyer via its Legal Project, Mr Pipes said.

Represented by the Dutch criminal lawyer, Bram Moscowitz, Mr Wilders successfully defended himself against the charges, which were brought by prosecutors in Amsterdam on behalf of groups representing minorities from Turkey, Morocco and other countries with significant Muslim populations. The case, heard in October 2010, was filed in response to Mr Wilders' comments in the Dutch media about Muslims and his film Fitna, which interlays images of terrorist attacks with quotations from the Quran and prompted protests by Muslims in Islamic countries worldwide. The court found he had stayed within the limits of free speech.

Mr Pipes declined to say how much his group had paid for the controversial politician's defence.

Mr Moscowitz declined to discuss payments for Mr Wilder's defence, citing client confidentiality.

Mr Wilders said that his legal expenses were paid for with the help of donations from defenders of freedom of speech. "I do not answer questions of who they are and what they have paid. This could jeopardise their safety," he said.

Mr Wilders, 49, became a member of Dutch parliament in 2006, campaigning against Islam, which he calls a threat to Dutch culture and western values. He called Islam a violent political ideology and vowed never to enter a mosque, "not in 100,000 years". His party won 24 seats in the 150-seat lower house in June 2010.

He has been under 24-hour security for eight years after receiving death threats from radical Muslim groups in the Netherlands and abroad. The Norwegian mass killer Anders Breivik cited anti-Islamic comments by Mr Wilders in an online manifesto that sought to justify his crimes. Mr Wilders has denounced Mr Breivik and his actions.

David Horowitz, who runs a network of Los Angeles-based conservative groups and a website called FrontPage magazine, said he paid Mr Wilders fees for making two speeches, security costs during student protests and overnight accommodation for his Dutch bodyguards during a 2009 trip to the United States.

Mr Horowitz said he paid Mr Wilders for one speech in Los Angeles and one at Temple University in Philadelphia. He declined to specify the amounts, but said that Mr Wilders had received "a good fee". When Mr Wilders' Philadelphia appearance sparked student protests, Mr Horowitz said, he paid a special security fee of about $1,500 (Dh5,510) to the Philadelphia police department. Mr Horowitz said he also paid for overnight accommodation for four or five Dutch government bodyguards accompanying Mr Wilders on the trip.

Mr Wilders said in response: "I am frequently asked to speak abroad. Whenever possible I accept these invitations. I never ask for a fee. However, sometimes the travel and accommodation expenses are paid. My personal security is always paid for by the Dutch government."