New York Times
October 15, 2001

Saudi Denies U.S. Charge That He Gave Bin Laden Aid


Jidda, Saudi Arabia -- The 11th floor aerie from which Yasin Abdullah al-Qadi shepherds his investments is a seemingly endless stretch of plush white carpet barely interrupted by a white leather couch and a spotless desk. The Red Sea dominates the view, sparkling azure in the bright October sunshine.

But the placid surroundings were shattered on Friday when Mr. Qadi found himself on a new list of 39 individuals and groups accused by the United States Treasury Department of financing Osama bin Laden and his organization, Al Qaeda.

The citation about Mr. Qadi read in part: "He heads the Saudi-based Muwafaq Foundation. Muwafaq is an Al Qaeda front that receives funding from wealthy Saudi businessmen." It goes on to say that the business community has been transferring millions of dollars to Mr. bin Laden through the charity.

It is an accusation that Mr. Qadi says he finds absurd, not least because the foundation shut down five years ago.

"Nothing has been given to bin Laden whatsoever, this is nonsense," Mr. Qadi, a bearded, 45-year-old businessman, said in an interview.

Accusations against pillars of the Jidda community like Mr. Qadi and the foundation its six-member board included prominent figures like two members of the bin Mahfouz banking clan are raising questions among Saudis about the investigation into the Sept. 11 attacks. The accusations against the charity were presented without detailed evidence and came after five names on the list of suspects seemed to be cases of mistaken identity.

"Now they are focusing on innocent people and saying this one helped bin Laden and this one had relations with bin Laden and this and this," Mr. Qadi said.

The Muwafaq Foundation existed for about four years, he said, raising about $15 million to $20 million from 1993 to 1996. He added that that the exact dates might differ slightly according to the Muslim calendar.

The foundation was incorporated on the Isle of Jersey, with separate chapters for each country where the charity worked. These included Bosnia, Albania, Ethiopia and Sudan, and one for Pakistan and Afghanistan together.

The projects in those countries included building mosques, financing schools and scholarship programs. Mr. Qadi said he did not remember all the specific projects, and he said all the files were at his lawyer's office in Britain.

In 1995, the trustees of the Muwafaq Foundation filed a libel suit in London against a newsletter, Africa Confidential, for linking the foundation to terrorist activities in Africa. The publication lost the lawsuit.

Mr. Qadi did produce a document from Pakistan dated March 22, 1997, that indicated that the charity had ceased operating there. The document was produced by the Pakistani accounting firm of Sidat Hydar Qamar & Company, whose letterhead identified it as the Pakistani affiliate of the American firm Arthur Andersen.

Mr. Qadi said all the branches of the charity were shut down at roughly the same time, after its founders decided that they could do just as well working through established foundations.

He said that he did not know whether his assets abroad had been frozen as a result of the Treasury Department's announcement it came on a Friday and over the weekend it was impossible to check.

Senior Saudi officials said they had taken no action against Mr. Qadi because they were investigating the American claim.

As to Mr. bin Laden, who also comes from a prominent Jidda business clan, Mr. Qadi said he had met him in the 1980's when Mr. bin Laden came back from Afghanistan as a hero for fighting the Soviets. Giving money to him then was a common thing to do then, but not anymore, he said.

"This period of his life when we thought he was a hero is something completely different from what we are seeing today," Mr. Qadi said.

Copyright 2001, New York Times Company. All rights reserved.

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