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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 September 2018

Web of obscure British firms try to tarnish UAE’s terrorism fight

MP trips to Qatar and panels in parliament among the high-profile offerings by a London-based activist

AOHR accountant Ibrahim Sayam, from Sayam & Co, in London. Stephen Lock / The National
AOHR accountant Ibrahim Sayam, from Sayam & Co, in London. Stephen Lock / The National

A Dh200 million pledge by the UAE to help Interpol fight terrorism is the latest target in the campaign orchestrated by a British group with close links to the Muslim Brotherhood.

The donation last year to the Interpol Foundation for a Safer World was hailed by the secretary general Jurgen Stock as a significant boost to tackling security challenges posed by terrorism, and organised and cyber crime.

The Arab Organisation for Human Rights in UK is to hold a panel discussion today at University College London, to debate whether Interpol is in danger of being manipulated for “political purposes” after the donation.

AOHR UK, a limited company, conducts political activities despite operating on apparently meagre resources, its Companies House accounts show.

The group is run by a single director, Mohammed Jamil, 46, who runs at least three inter-linked UK firms. Two other companies, AOHR in Europe and AOHR in Britain and Europe, share similar names, mission statements, company addresses and an accountant.

AOHR UK has organised at least 12 anti-UAE conferences since June last year, including a March panel at the university, which was live-streamed on Al Jazeera’s Arabic website.

It has also organised talks about a UN Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva and events in the UK Parliament, including a forum hosted by Labour MP Andy Slaughter, secretary of the Britain-Palestine All-Party Parliamentary Group.

A panel of top-flight barristers has been assembled to discuss the UAE’s donation. A Queen’s Counsel listed to attend, Toby Cadman, a prominent international rights lawyer, has featured in at least five of the AOHR discussions in Geneva and London.

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Mr Cadman told The National that he was not involved with AOHR’s business activities. He refused to answer questions about whether he receives appearance fees or travel and other expenses.

Mr Cadman said that as a barrister he did not discuss the details or scope of his legal instructions, whether acting pro bono or not.

“I am not now, nor have I ever been, a member of the AOHR UK and therefore I am not in a position to answer questions on Mr Jamil’s behalf,” he said. “I will take issue should your article suggest that I am.”

AOHR is also behind a complaint to the International Criminal Court about the UAE, which was lodged by lawyer Joseph Breham in Paris.

Mr Breham said client-attorney privilege prevented him from discussing who, if anyone, was paying his legal fees or whether he was working on the case pro bono. The ICC complaint concerns the UAE’s presence in Yemen.

AOHR picked up the tab for British politicians to visit Qatar in September last year after the boycott by the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain over Doha’s support for terrorism.

Lord Nazir Ahmed, Lord John Kilclooney and Lord Qurban Hussain said AOHR paid for travel and accommodation.

Grahame Morris, an MP who was also part of the trip, estimated his costs for the visit at £1,321 (Dh7,000). The House of Lords members registered their trips with the Register of Members’ Financial Interests without specifying costs.

An investigation by The National has found the AOHR UK financial accounts filed in February this year show the company was £265 in the red for the year ended April 2017.

As a designated micro-entity, it does not disclose annual revenues but AOHR UK has shown a loss every year since it was incorporated in 2013.

AOHR UK’s website says it was “established to promote human rights culture in the world and to advocate human rights in general and the rights of the Arab citizens in particular”.

Mr Jamil didn’t respond to two emailed requests for comment send to AOHR’s London office. The door to his former London office block is padlocked.

Mr Jamil and his east London accountant, Ibrahim Sayam, 66, both have ties to men accused of links to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Companies House records show that Mr Sayam’s accounting firm also worked for the Cordoba Foundation in 2010, which describes its mandate as “bridging the gap of understanding between the Muslim World and the West”.

Former British prime minister David Cameron called the Cordoba Foundation a “front for the Muslim Brotherhood” in 2008, and the UAE listed it as a terrorist group in 2014.

Mr Sayam has, at various times, acted as a company director, accountant, and offered his company headquarters as the mailing address for AOHR entities since 2011. He refused to answer specific queries about the company.

“I’m an accountant. I don’t know where they get their money,” Mr Sayam said in an interview with The National. “That’s not my job.”

Mr Sayam also denied having been a director of any of the AOHR companies, although his name, address and signature are on the incorporation documents for AOHR in Europe and he is listed as the director in 2011 and again between August 2012 and April 2015, Companies House records show.

His address is also the mailing address for AOHR UK and AOHR in Britain and Europe, the latter registered in October last year. AOHR in Britain and Europe has not yet filed financial information.

AOHR in Europe is the oldest of the web of companies, registered in 2011. It showed a £280 loss when Mr Sayam prepared the AOHR in Europe accounts for the year ended April 30, 2012.

In its best year, AOHR in Europe had £53,046 cash in the bank in April 2015 but that dropped to £24,000 in 2016. The company had total net assets of £839 at the end of April last year.

Over the years, AOHR in Europe has been run by a director alternately using the names Mohammad Jamil, Mohammed Jameel and Mohammad Jamil Al Hirch.

The AOHR in Europe financial accounts for the year ending April 30, 2017 were filed by Mohamed Al Hirsch, director, but that name was changed to Mohammad Jamil in July last year.

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Despite the different spellings and names, the AOHR in Europe director shares the same birth date, mailing address and accountant as Mr Jamil, the AOHR UK director.

The Cordoba Foundation is run by director Anas Al Tikriti, 49, who did not respond to a request for comment. Mr Al Tikriti has previously denied links between the foundation and the Brotherhood.

The complex web of connections is typical of the nexus of activists and campaigns that promote Muslim Brotherhood causes in Britain, says Emma Webb, a research fellow at the Henry Jackson Society.

“The UK’s Islamist scene is now an interconnected fluid alliance of movements sharing similar aims,” Ms Webb said.

“They have built an ecosystem of organisations, media and literature outlets, lobby groups, educational institutions, charities and companies, hosting everything from conferences to recreational activities.

“The Muslim Brotherhood spearheaded this approach, entering people’s lives and politics through every available route. By creating such a vast network, they are more than the sum of their parts and inflate their ability to influence.”

AOHR has also been a supporter of extremist cleric Raed Salah, leader of the Islamic Movement Northern Branch, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood that seeks to build an Islamic society, according to the Brookings Institution.

“The northern branch, led by Raed Salah, is said to have links with Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood,” the European Council for Foreign Relations says.

Mr Jamil was photographed with the cleric during Mr Salah’s 2012 deportation proceedings in the UK. In August 2017, AOHR sent urgent messages to the UN asking officials to provide Mr Salah with special protection in Israel, where he is now in prison.

Mr Salah was jailed in Israel from 2003-2005 on charges that he funnelled money to Hamas, which Israel considers a terrorist organisation. He has been in custody in Israel since August for incitement to violence and racism, according to news reports.

The question posed by AOHR UK about Interpol is unlikely to find a sympathetic audience at the agency’s headquarters in Lyon.

Mr Stock welcomed the donation last year, saying: “The generosity of the UAE’s contribution will have a significant impact on strengthening the work of law enforcement worldwide.

But it is unlikely to be the last event trying to paint the UAE in a negative light.

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