Most Saudis unaware of new charity regulations

Monday, August 4, 2003

ABU DHABI Saudi Arabia is not enforcing a new law intended to regulate charities to block the transfer of funds to terrorist organizations such as Al Qaida.

Saudi sources said a government directive against the collection of charity in public has been widely ignored. They said the directive, enacted on July 14 by the Labor and Social Affairs Ministry, was meant to end solicitation by charity groups in stores and on the streets.

The Jedda-based Arab News reported that most people were unaware of the new ban. The newspaper found charity boxes in dozens of shops in violation of the law.

The ministry has also pledged to enforce the law and monitor major Saudi cities for any signs of public charity collection, Middle East Newsline reported. But the Arab News quoted store owners as saying that they did not see any inspectors.

The ministry was said to have warned that it will penalize any organization that tries to raise money in public. This includes the placing of charity boxes in public locations.

The kingdom enacted the directive amid U.S. pressure to regulate funds to charities that might funnel money to Al Qaida or other Islamic insurgency groups. The assets of a range of Saudi charities have been frozen by the United States on grounds that they have funneled money to Al Qaida.

On Monday, a U.S. government team was expected to arrive in Riyad for talks with Saudi security and intelligence officials regarding a crackdown on financing for Al Qaida. The U.S. team was said to have been composed by officials from the FBI and Treasury Department.

The Saudi-owned Al Hayat daily reported on Monday that the kingdom has relayed what it termed was important information on Al Qaida. The London-based newspaper did not elaborate, but said Saudi Arabia has served as an intermediary in U.S. contacts with Iran.

Saudi newspapers said the International Islamic Relief Organization appears to be violating the new law. The organization is one of the leading charities in Saudi Arabia and supported by senior members of the royal family.

Adnan Basha, secretary-general of the IIRO, told the Okaz daily that the organization is not responsible for the charity boxes.

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