- Now-defunct Islamic charity that illegally transferred large sums of money to Iraq during the 1990s and early 2000s, in violation of United Nations and U.S. sanctions against Saddam Hussein’s regime
Founded in 1994, Help the Needy (HTN)—also known as the Help the Needy Endowment—was an unlicensed, unregistered Islamic charity based in Syracuse, New York. Its mission was to solicit money to provide medical and housing assistance “for the starving and oppressed people of Iraq,” who, at that time, were feeling the effects of economic sanctions that the United Nations had enacted against Saddam Hussein‘s regime. Notably, however, HTN never applied for non-profit status and never obtained a license to send assets to Iraq. Moreover, in 1990 George W. Bush had signed Presidential Executive Orders 12722 and 12724, making it illegal for American residents and organizations to send any money to Iraq.
Federal authorities in the U.S. began investigating HTN in 2000, when Oneida Savings Bank and Key Bank both filed “suspicious activity reports” regarding HTN transactions. After a three-year probe, on February 19, 2003 a federal grand jury indicted HTN and four individuals affiliated with the organization for conspiring to “violate and evade … the ‘Iraqi Sanctions Regulations’ … by among other things, transferring, directly and indirectly, funds and other financial and economic resources to one or more persons in the Country of Iraq.”
Three of the individuals in question—HTN co-founder Rafil Dhafir, HTN executive director Ayman Jarwan, and former Muslim prison chaplain Osameh al Wahaidy—were arrested in Syracuse on February 26, 2003. The fourth indictee was Jordanian resident Maher Zagha, whose company, Zagha Trading Establishment (ZTE), specialized in imports from the Far East destined for use in Jordan and Iraq. The federal indictment specified four separate instances where at least $100,000 had been drawn from HTN accounts and deposited into a ZTE account at the Jordan Islamic Bank. Further, the indictment detailed wire transfers and checks that had been passed through ZTE to “an individual known to the Grand Jury who was located in Baghdad.” All told, federal investigators said the indictees had used HTN to funnel more than $2.7 million through the Jordan Islamic Bank.
In addition to the conspiracy charges, Dhafir, Zagha, and HTN also faced twelve counts of money laundering and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.
In April 2003, Jarwan and Al Wahaidy pled guilty to conspiring to circumvent U.S. sanctions regulations by sending money to Iraq.
In April 2004, a federal grand jury indicted Dhafir on ten new charges, including mail fraud and wire fraud. Dhafir was accused of, among other things, falsely telling donors that their money would be used to help feed starving children in Iraq, while he secretly invested the funds in his own business ventures, including $300,000 for income-producing properties in Syracuse. After a 15-week trial, a jury in February 2005 convicted Dhafir on 59 of the 60 federal charges against him. He was sentenced to 22 years in prison.
According to the Justice Department, very little of the more than $4 million raised by HTN over a nine-year period was used to aid the people of Iraq. After the foregoing convictions, HTN became moribund and eventually dissolved.
Prior to its dissolution, HTN was affiliated with the Islamic Assembly of North America. Further, it gave more than $42,000 to the Benevolence International Foundation, and the Global Relief Foundation, both of which were designated “global terrorist-support organizations” by the U.S. government.