HLF accountant testifies all day (Nov. 5, 2008)

Prosecutor Barry Jonas continued his cross-examination of former HLF accountant Wafa Yaish on Wednesday, Nov. 5, 2008 by asking him whether the HLF reported their foreign bank accounts to the Internal Revenue Service. Americans are required to file this when dealing with foreign accounts, Jonas said. Yaish who has not dealt with foreign accounts since HLF’s closure said, I am not aware of it. Jonas then aggressively asked, It didn’t cross your mind to tell auditors about the foreign bank accounts even though the HLF sent millions of dollars to overseas banks. Yaish answered politely, If they asked, we will provide them with the information.

Sure, the HLF provided backpacks and school supplies to the needy, Jonas said, after which he asked, But do you know what went on in these schools? He played a video that the jury has already seen numerous times of marching children on stage wearing black holding fake RPGs, or Rocket-propelled grenades. As for the gifts that HLF gave some families, these included appliances like washing machines. Don’t they need running water and electricity to operate washing machines? Jonas then displayed a chart created by the Israeli anonymous witness nicknamed “Avi” depicting the “life cycle of a typical Hamas activist.” He said the HLF gave money to the same type of Palestinian institutions to which Hamas funded, including kindergartens, summer camps, hospitals, mosques and universities. Yaish responded truthfully, The Red Cross gave money to summer camps and kindergartens—Does that make it Hamas?

In addition, Jonas asked Yaish if he knew whether the HLF was part of a larger organization called the Palestine Committee. No, Yaish said. The jurors then heard a wiretapped phone call between HLF CEO Shukri Abu-Baker and Omar Ahmad, who Jonas said was part of the Palestine Committee. In the phone call, the two individuals talked about giving HLF official Mohammad El-Mezain a $20,000 check. The check, Yaish explained, was to compensate him for his work and help him move to San Diego, where he opened the southern California HLF office.

Jonas also asked Yaish whether the HLF had rules of conduct regarding the type of websites employees visited. Yes, Shukri Abu-Baker have a verbal instruction telling employees not to surf political or terrorist websites, Yaish said. Jonas then showed the jury photos from temporary Internet files that the FBI seized from HLF computers. Pictures such as these: a child holding a grenade, a man with a Hamas headband and a protestor wearing a mock suicide vest.

Jonas concluded cross-examination by playing a phone call where Yaish said the FBI is listening. He then asked, Were you watching what you were saying? Yaish’s response: I said that because I didn’t want to be sitting on this chair like I am today.

For nearly half an hour, Greg Westfall—who represents defendant Abdulrahman Odeh—showed the jury documents proving that HLF foreign accounts were well-documented. Furthermore, Yaish said the FBI visited him six times and never asked about HLF’s foreign accounts—just the charity work. In addition to the FBI’s investigation, a pro-Israeli group named the ADL (Anti-Defamation League) was attempting to connect the HLF with Hamas. Westfall clarified that the pictures found in HLF computers were from temporary Internet files that were automatically downloaded to a directory after workers opened Internet browsers. Westfall concluded by playing a video showing Odeh distributing food during a trip to a refugee camp in Egypt. The video played without volume because government attorneys said the sound would have been hearsay.

During her re-cross examination of Yaish, Theresa Duncan—who represents defendant Shukri Abu-Baker—began by saying that institutions were not required to notify the government about their foreign accounts until 2005. In other words, the regulation that Jonas brought up was not instituted until about four years after the government shut down the HLF. In addition, Yaish said he never saw anything that suggested that the HLF was part of the Palestine Committee. As for the $20,000 check, El-Mezain was embarrassed to go straight to Abu-Baker. So, he told Omar Ahmad to simply be “a go-between.”

Fifth Defense Witness

Edward Abington, a Consul General in Jerusalem representing the U.S. government from 1993 to 1997, was the last defense witness to be called to the stand. Abington, who testified in last year’s HLF trial, was born in Lubbock, Texas and currently lives in The Hague, Netherlands. When defense attorney Nancy Hollander described him as “eyes and ears of the U.S. in a foreign country,” Abington agreed. Upon leaving the State Department, Abington became a consultant for the Palestinian Authority from 1999 to 2006. Abington ended the day by saying that he never worked for Hamas.

Abington will continue testifying on Thursday, Nov. 6 after which defense attorneys will likely rest their case.

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