Abdul Rahman Omeir al-Naimi is not going anywhere. That’s the message from al-Karama Foundation, which announced this month that after consultations with lawyers in Europe and America, the man who the U.S. Treasury Department says helped funnel hundreds of thousands of dollars to al Qaeda will remain as president of a charity best known for fighting for the rights of political prisoners in the Middle East.
Mourad Dhina, executive director of al Karama, told The Daily Beast that after al-Naimi initially resigned from the board of al-Karama, the council and al-Naimi began to reconsider the decision in early January. “It was a difficult debate on the council,” he said. “In the end, the council reckoned this was a purely political decision and al Karama had a moral duty to fight it.” He said the view of the majority on the council or board of the foundation was that by accepting al-Naimi’s resignation, they would be lending credence to what his organization believes are false accusations. “Al Karama is against these listings,” he said.
The Treasury Department declined to comment specifically on al-Karama’s decision to stay on the board. When asked for a response, a Treasury Department spokesperson said, “Treasury has consistently advised charities—both domestic and international—of best practices to protect themselves from terrorist abuse.”
Juan Zarate, who served as a deputy national security adviser under President George W. Bush and authored Treasury’s War, a book outlining the development of the U.S. strategy against terrorist financing, said as a general rule organizations that do not change their management after designations like this could face legal problems.
“Any designated party is inherently suspect,” said Zarate. “The reality is that a designated entity that fails to change its behavior or its management will remain tainted and isolated by the international financial and commercial system.”
Avi Jorisch, a former Treasury official who worked on terrorist financing, concurs. “If an organization keeps a leader at the helm that has been designated [as a terrorist financier] by the Treasury Department,” he says, “they increase the likelihood that they themselves will come under increased scrutiny and ultimately be designated themselves in aiding and abetting illicit activity.”
Dhina said al-Naimi filed an affidavit this month with the Treasury Department protesting the charges against him. Those charges are grave. As The Daily Beast first reported last month, the Treasury Department has accused al-Naimi of funneling $600,000 in 2013 alone to Abu-Khalid al-Suri, who is described by the Treasury Department as al Qaeda’s representative in Syria. The Treasury Department also said al-Naimi served as an interlocutor between al Qaeda’s affiliate in Iraq and wealthy donors in his native Qatar and at one point oversaw the transfer of $2 million a month to al Qaeda’s Iraq affiliate.
Al-Naimi however says he is the victim of a smear campaign. “I categorically deny all the allegations made against me in a mere one page press release issued by the U.S. Department of the Treasury barren of due process and constitutional safeguards,” he said in an English and Arabic statement issued earlier this month. He went on to say that the charges are intended to “assassinate my character and sully the reputation of al-Karama and undermine its work in the arena of human rights.”
The timing of the Treasury announcement is not good news for al-Karama. In the coming weeks, the foundation—whose work has focused on the fate of political prisoners in Middle Eastern countries—is applying for observer status at the United Nations.
In an interview, Dhina acknowledged that the application at the United Nations now is likely a long shot. “It’s not the United Nations that gives observer status, it’s a decision of governments inside the United Nations,” Dhina said. “We had problems with governments before this designation.” However, Dhina said the behavior of the states who oppose al-Karama “puts pressure on the governments” and not his foundation. “Even if we don’t get this, we won’t stop our work,” he said.
Dhina also said al-Karama was not asking some of its local partners in Egypt, a country that has imprisoned officials from foreign non-governmental organizations, to continue associating with the group.
Nonetheless, Dhina said al-Karama would still work with U.S. human rights groups such as Human Rights Watch. Emma Daly, a spokeswoman for Human Rights Watch, earlier this month told The Daily Beast, “The statements that Human Rights Watch issues jointly with any organization includes only research and information independently verified by Human Rights Watch. Our joint statements with Karama have addressed the rights of detainees from a range of backgrounds—bloggers, journalists and others—including Islamists and non-Islamists. In all of our dealings with Karama, it has conducted itself in a reliable and professional manner.”