Attempting to track the investments and finances of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) abroad was not easy. The organization follows highly intricate and complex procedures to conceal links with its sources of funding, which remain unknown to local and international authorities.
The group, which was born “secret” and grew up “prohibited,” is accustomed to work under surveillance. As a result, its leaders has innovated specific methods to conceal their financial tracks through individuals who most likely remain unknown to many. They needed the money to remain safe from scrutiny by a state that has hunted and confiscated its suspected funds for the past 80 years.
However, the MB was more experienced than the men of Mubarak’s regime in dealing with associations and companies through which it ran its finances worldwide, in tax havens and offshore companies. This complicated the mission of al-Watan‘s investigative team for this report, which took five months to complete.
According to former leading member Tharwat al-Kharbawi, domestic financing is based on fundraising and contributions from the MB’s 500.000 members. However, it was clear that the first steps in tracking the Brotherhood’s money in the hopes of uncovering the main sources, should begin abroad.
The end of the thread leads to Yusuf Nada, an Egyptian businessman with Italian citizenship, who served as commissioner of the MB abroad and was founder of the al-Taqwa Bank, accused by then-US President George W. Bush of financing the September 11 attacks.
Records indicate that Nada founded al-Taqwa Bank in the Bahamas, along with Nada International Concrete and al-Taqwa Management companies, liquidated in 2004.
Al Taqwa Management Organization SA was established in 1998, with a capital of 100,000 Swiss Francs, which kept changing until 2001, when the US authorities put the companies of Yusuf Nada and Ali Ghaleb Himmat, one of his main associates, under surveillance. The two partners (Nada and Himmat) subsequently changed the name of the company from al-Taqwa Management to Nada Management Organization SA in liquidazione. The company focused on fiduciary consultancies and services, project implementation, property management and real estate brokerage.
A study by the US-based International Assessment and Strategic Center (IASC) indicated that Yusuf Nada violated the travel ban imposed on him by the United Nations in 2002 and traveled from his residence in Italy to Switzerland. He also changed the names of several of his companies, applied for the liquidation of his new companies, and appointed himself responsible for the liquidation. This was confirmed by Swiss documents obtained by al-Watan for a number of companies that bear the name al-Taqwa.
The information in the documents, however, offers nothing new. Nada’s funds (company and bank) were confiscated after he was accused of involvement in the September 11 attacks. However, this information revealed a more important dimension – a map of the intertwined relationships between the founders and the first threads leading to the global financing of the MB organization.
The establishing documents for Nada’s companies contain the names of several individuals who were members of the MB in different countries. Some of them created organizations that carried out fundraising and collected contributions from members, ostensibly for the following activities: deepening Islamic awareness and the desire to help others, strengthening social and cultural ties between members, and enabling members to fulfill their duties towards their families and themselves.
In a statement to al-Wafd newspaper in October 2011, Mohamed Mahdi Akef, the former supreme guide of the MB, boasted that the organization’s reach encompassed 72 countries around the world. He indicated that they had associations in all those countries, including the US, where the Muslim American Society (MAS) is based. The former leader’s statements confirm that the MB abroad depends in their organization on Islamic and missionary charitable associations.
Al-Watan uncovered eight charities, most of them based in Switzerland, whose administrative boards are controlled by the MB and which collect contributions and donations from members to fund the organization. The obtained documents do not indicate the size of membership. However, they reveal the funds available at the time and additional information about their activities and directors.
They are as follows:
– The first association is called Comunità Islamica nel Canton, Ticino [Islamic Society in Canton, Ticino], founded in 1992. The Syrian-Italian Himmat is listed as CEO, who is considered one of the leading members of the MB. The Egyptian Mohammed Mahmoud Abdul-Moti is his deputy, and the board of directors includes Mohammed Karmous, a Tunisian with a French passport, in addition to the Libyans Suleiman Suleiman and Fahim al-Moheb. One of the founders was Saad Abou Zaid Ibrahim, an Egyptian with Italian nationality, who left the board in 2002 and was followed by Ahmed Idriss Nasreddin in November 2003.
Since these names were unfamiliar to al-Watan, the first mission was to investigate these individuals and their political leanings. Several surprises followed. According to the website SWASYA Center for Human Rights, established by the MB in 2004, Dr. Karmous is one of the MB’s leading members. He used to serve as member of SWASYA’s consultative council. Suleiman is none other than Suleiman Abdul-Qadir, the MB’s general supervisor in Libya. Idris Nasreddin is a Kuwaiti businessman with Italian nationality, who served as Kuwait’s honorary consul in Milan, and was a former employee in Bin Laden’s company, as well as a suspect in the September 11 attacks, but was acquitted in 2006. Idriss owns a large number of investment companies in Panama, including Cosmo Building Materials Inc. founded in 1995, and a holding company called Nigeria Shares Management Holding Inc., in addition to four other companies registered in Panama between 1992 and 1995.
According to the Swiss records, the MB in Canton is a non-profit religious organization established to promote religious practice, spread Islamic awareness, and provide assistance to members and other Muslims to enable them to perform their duties towards themselves and their families, in cooperation with other Islamic organizations and associations. It is financed through mandatory monthly membership contributions set by the administration for active members and others, in addition to donations and grants. The organization is managed through a committee composed of five to seven founding members, in addition to other administrative bodies.
The documents obtained by al-Watan reveal that the Islamic Society in Canton had a budget of US$414.500 and 531.000 Swiss Francs ($534,000) in 2006, for a total of around US$1 million.
– The second association is the Centre Socio Culturel des Musulmans de Lausanne [Muslim Cultural Center in Lausanne] established in 2002 and funded by membership contributions, donations, grants, and other investments, according to the founding documents in Switzerland.
The center’s aims include cultural, religious, and social promotion and cooperation with other organizations. It had a liquidity of around US$1 million and is headed by CEO Mohammed Karmous and Treasurer Ahmed Bin Rahouma; a Swiss citizen of Tunisian origin.
– The third association is Fondation Euro-Swisse (MITHAK) [Euro-Swiss Foundation], founded in April 2010 with the objective of improving the image of Muslims in Switzerland, and aiding them to integrate into social work and build bridges between Muslim youth in the West and Muslim countries.
The Swiss records do not indicate how the organization is financed. However, its budget for 2009 mentioned that the remaining funds – after expenditures for activities – amounted to $192.000 and CHF213.000 ($228.000), for a total of around $420.000.
However, the records say that the administrative board consists of at least five members, in addition to the auditors and the board of trustees headed by Karmous. The CEO is Gharib al-Arabi, originally from Tunisia, and fellow national Fatima Boutira, who both have power of attorney.
– The fourth is the Fondation d’Oeuvres a Rayonnement Socioculturelles (FORS) [Sociocultural Influence Foundation], established in early 2010 to contribute to cultural life, eliminate barriers, and to organize cultural exchange. It also aims at providing aid to persons in need of social assistance. It is registered as being non-profit, according to Swiss records.
The documents obtained by al-Watan concerning FORS’ financing reveal funds of around $400.000. It is run by a board of trustees and an executive board, where Mohammed Karmous also appears as a member. The documents indicate that Nadia Karmous acts as CEO and that the two namesakes are related, but do not mention the nature of the relationship.
Nadia Karmous was also one of the founders of the organization, along with Ahmed Bin Rahouma, whose name also appeared in the documents of several associations. However, Bin Rahouma left the FORS administration in March 2013.
– The fifth organization is the Ligue des Musulmans de Suisse [League of Switzerland’s Muslims], established by Mohammed Karmous in January 2006. He left the administration in 2007, to be replaced by two Tunisians, Adel Majari and Taher Jouili.
The documents related to the association’s founding maintain that it aims to facilitate dialogue between all religions and cultures. It is financed by member contributions. Secret documents obtained by al-Watan indicate that their numbers encompass 10 volunteer members, 120 active members, and 500 other members. The documents, which indicate that funding comes from member contributions and does not mention any other resources, show that the first annual budget for the organization in Switzerland stood at around $1 million, in dollar and swiss franc accounts.
According to the documents, the league’s headquarters moved from Neuchatel in 2008, so it was removed from their registers.
– The sixth organization is the Union Islamique des Enseignants [Muslim Teachers Union], formed by Mohammed Karmous in 2010, who also served as secretary general, and Abdullah al-Andari from Kuwait. It aims to defend unions, professional rights, and political cooperation in all member countries and is funded by yearly profits from publications, in addition to donations and grants.
Another Swiss document reveals that the organization’s budget reached $479.000 plus CHF531.000 ($568.000), for a total of $1.05 million by the end of 2009.
– The seventh association is the Vereinigung der Islamischen Organisationen in Zürich [League of Islamic Organizations in Zurich], established in 1996 and funded by contributions and fees. It originally aimed to build an Islamic center and cemetery. However, documents indicate that the association’s main aim was later changed to coordination between local Islamic organizations in Zurich and across the country. It promotes Islamic religious practice, social and cultural interests, and prepares Muslims with the needed knowledge and tools to face daily problems.
The organization was established by Ismail Amin, an Egyptian with Swiss nationality and Mahmoud al-Jundi, who is also Swiss, among others.
– The eighth organization is the Stiftung Islamische Gemeinschaft Zürich [Muslim Community in Zürich], established in 1994 by Ismail Amin and 23 other individuals, including Mohamed Mansour, Hassan Abu Yusuf (a Swiss national), Mohammed Ibrahim (one of Yusuf Nada’s partners in al-Taqwa Management, which closed in 2004), in addition to others from Libya and Swiss nationals of Arab origins.
The organization’s goals consist of assisting the Muslim population of Zürich. It is funded by yearly contributions, in addition to donations and income from various activities, such as running mosques and other real estate.
According to the documents obtained by al-Watan, by the end of 2006, the organization possessed funds of around $166.000 and CHF213.000 ($228.000), for a total of $394.000.
– The ninth association with links to the MB discovered by Al-Watan is the International Islamic Charitable Organization, Sharq Koweït, succursale de Meyrin, based in Geneva. It has several branches in Arab countries, including Kuwait, and was registered in 2001 in Geneva as a branch of a Kuwaiti organization, with the purported aim of assisting the sick, orphans, and victims of disaster and famine.
It went through several changes, including a revocation of the license for its Geneva branch in 2010. Its board of directors contains 31 persons, including several known MB members such as Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a Qatari of Egyptian origins, Dr. Zaghloul al-Najjar, and Ali Ghaleb Himmat, the MB official, in addition to others from Kuwait, Libya and Switzerland.
The investigation concludes that the above organizations possessed yearly funds of more than 35 million Egyptian Pounds ($5 million), after the deduction of expenses, and some were established in 1996, almost 17 years ago.
Other famous organizations known to belong to the MB include the Muslim American Society (MAS), established in 1993, which used to be headed by Dr. Esam Omeish. It works on spreading religion, on education, and youth, with 1,000 active members and more than 100.000 affiliates in 60 branches across 35 states. The organization functions through a structure of several institutions and branches, including the MAS Freedom Foundation, Community Outreach Program (Faith Over Fear), Service Corps, Islamic American University, Council on Islamic Schools, Scouting Department, PACE Program, and the American Muslim magazine.
Former MB official Tharwat al-Kharbawy, who was a member for more than 20 years, tells al-Watan that the group depends on charities abroad as the main avenue for collecting contributions. “It is the primary source of money, membership fees and donations,” he explains. However, he insists that the money from such organizations seldom reaches Egypt. Instead it is transferred to other countries upon the request of MB leaders through a direct financial order by the supreme guide in Egypt.
Kharbawy estimates that the MB’s monthly income in Egypt alone reaches around LE100 million ($14 million) through contributions from roughly half a million members, in addition to investments that reach LE180 billion ($26 billion per year).
“This is equal to the budgets of some Arab states,” he says, adding that some of the revenue from investments is invested in countries that do not prohibit the MB.
However, while confirming that the movement used to have investments, former Deputy Supreme Guide of the MB Mohamed Habib says they had to be liquidated due to restrictions by security forces. The movement now depends on monthly contributions and member donations. He maintains that investments are controlled by members of the MB and that they contribute a certain amount and fund the organization voluntarily; in addition to mandatory yearly fees that amount to 8 percent of individual income.
A study by Dr. Hussein Shehata, an expert consultant in financial operations, indicates that MB funding sources fall into two groups: the first is membership fees and the second a percentage of profits from MB businessmen, under the title of donations, which amount to LE20 million ($3 million) yearly, according to the study.
Other Swiss documents reveal several companies established abroad and owned by businessmen who are members in the MB and whose names are mentioned in the documents for the above-mentioned associations.
The most prominent is Stahel Hardmeyer AG in Nachlassliquidation, established by Hassan Abu Yusuf, mentioned above, in 1967, along with several others. It was launched with around CHF2 million in capital, which was increased three times. The last of which was on 23 September 1993, when it reached CHF18.3 million ($20 million).
The company works in wholesale and cotton textiles and owns many subsidiaries in several countries, including the UK and the UK Virgin Islands. It is headed by a Swiss citizen called Oliver Stahl.
There is also BS Altena AG, formed in 2010 and working in long-term real estate. Hassan Abu Youssef, a Swiss citizen, sits on its administrative board as well as on the board of the charity Muslim Community.
A study by Douglas Farah from IASC maintains that the MB’s financial economic empire around the globe depends on investments by individual members. These include Ibrahim Kamel, founder of Dar al-Maal al-Islami Trust (DMI) and owner of several companies in Nassau, the Bahamas.
Al-Watan also obtained comprehensive documents on another company owned by Kamel, called Sirocco Aerospace International UK Limited. The records indicate that it was established in the UK Virgin Islands and has its headquarters in London under the serial number 3239579. According to the 2008 budget, the company had assets and liquid funds of around 5.6 million Euros ($7.4 million).
This is in addition to an import-export company called Kamel Corporation SA, established in 1999, which is currently undergoing liquidation.
Farah’s study indicates that the MB established several front and financial companies in Panama, Liberia, and Brazil, under the name of individuals like Yusuf Nada, Nasreddin, Qaradawi, and Himmat, who often introduce themselves as leading members of the MB.
He explains that it is difficult to differentiate between the personal wealth of MB members and that of the organization.
“The MB does not refuse any donation from its members,” Habib says. “These donations might increase in times of crisis, parliamentary elections, and so on.” Egyptians abroad pay monthly contributions like those inside the country, he adds.
While all the documents obtained by al-Watan reveal several threads linking the associations, companies, and individual members of the MB worldwide, they do not indicate any transfers among these entities. Further investigation did not reveal additional information. Such transfers, if they occur, are not indicated by the companies and banks. Moreover, the security forces of the former regime appeared to have previously failed to uncover them.
However, the final surprise comes from former deputy Supreme Guide Habib. He says that money transfers between countries and member contributions used to occur through persons traveling to Egypt, carrying cash within the permitted limits and delivering the money by hand.
Egyptian authorities at the time permitted visitors and citizens returning from abroad to carry a maximum amount of $10.000 or LE100.000 ($14.000) in cash.
The investigation reveals that several companies owned by businessmen who are members of the MB collect and provide yearly contributions, in addition to donations to the organization.
According to the investigation, as confirmed by former Deputy Supreme Guide Mohamed Habib, the MB is principally funded through the contributions of Egyptian members inside and outside the country.
The money is collected abroad through charitable organizations. Al-Watan was able to uncover nine charities operating in Switzerland, which allocate their profits under the direction of the supreme guide in Egypt, sending them to other countries. It was also revealed that money transfers occurred in cash and were carried by hand, rather than through banks or companies.