UK to release ‘pay to slay’ audits after Freedom of Information request

The branch of the British government responsible for administering overseas aid will disclose audit reports regarding aid money allegedly used to pay salaries to convicted terrorists, after abandoning its appeal against a ruling by U.K. Information Commissioner Elizabeth Denham.

In July 2018, U.K. Lawyers for Israel (UKLFI), a British volunteer organization of lawyers who support Israel, submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the Department for International Development for copies of audit reports for the Palestinian Recovery and Development Program. The program is a World Bank multi-donor trust fund for the Palestinian Authority. The DFID refused to release the information, citing among other reasons the risk of potential harm diplomatic relations between the United Kingdom and the P.A.

According to UKLFI, “Various countries, including the U.K., paid large sums of money into the World Bank’s Palestinian Recovery and Development Program Multi Donor Trust Fund (PRDP-MDTF), which were then transferred to the Palestinian Authority’s Central Treasury Account.” According to the organization, “this is the account from which payments were made to convicted terrorists, rewarding them for their crimes.”

Commissioner Denham ruled on July 26 of this year that the reports were of “significant public interest,” which outweighed any potential harm that might be done to diplomatic relations between the United Kingdom and the P.A. Denham ordered the DFID to release the information within 35 days, or appeal.

The DFID gave a Notice of Appeal on Aug. 19, saying it would appeal on the grounds that it opposed both the public interest argument and Denham’s conclusion that the P.A. was not a state for the purposes of the Freedom of Information Act.

However, when the DFID actually filed its Grounds of Appeal on Sept. 24, it withdrew part of its argument and said that it would release the documents.

“While DFID considers that the IC’s assessment of the public interest was wrong, it does not seek to appeal it,” the DFID said. “The IC gave insufficient weight to DFID’s reasons for withholding the materials, but since the time of the request there has been further engagement on this issue. While that does not vitiate DFID’s original decision, it does mean that DFID would not seek to withhold the information if a new request were made, and it therefore will provide the information.”

Jonathan Turner, chief executive of UKLFI, said in response that “we hope that DFID will now comply with its legal obligations and release the documents, and end this long-standing cover-up.”

According to Israel-based media watchdog Palestinian Media Watch, the P.A. spends more than 8 percent of its total budget on salaries for convicted terrorists, which serve to reward and encourage terrorism. These funds come out of the P.A.’s Central Treasury account, to which Britain has paid £430.5 million ($528.9 million) in grant aid between 2008 and 2015.

If the DFID still refuses to release the records, UKLFI will ask Denham to certify DFID’s failure to comply with the Freedom of Information Act. “This is a step to enable the High Court to hold DFID in contempt of court and to impose penalties including imprisonment of officials,” according to UKLFI.


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