IRS official has second thoughts; Tax exempt status for Muslim charity.
BOSTON - The Internal Revenue Service official who recommended tax exempt status 14 years ago for a Muslim charity said yesterday he would have acted differently had he seen the charity's strident newsletter.
Robert J. Charnoff testified yesterday in U.S. District Court in the case of Muhamed Mubayyid, Emadeddin Z. Muntasser, and Samir Al-Monla, former officials of Care International, which published a newsletter promoting jihad and the mujahideen who fight it.
He told Assistant U.S. Attorney B. Stephanie Seigmann that encouraging people to fight holy wars, recruiting them to do so and soliciting funds for fighters are not charitable activities.
Mr. Charnoff, a tax law specialist in IRS' Washington headquarters who has since retired, disagreed in 1993 with the IRS district office that kicked the application to his Washington office. The IRS office in Brooklyn, N.Y., called it "a political sensitive issue" because "this organization will involve themselves directly with countries where the United States military is being employed and fighting."
Care said it would operate primarily in Bosnia, Afghanistan, and Kashmir, and later in Somalia, Sudan, and Bangladesh and other countries. The now defunct Boston charity planned to aid victims of "natural and man-made disasters," develop a program of orphan sponsorships, rehabilitation programs, and reconstruction projects - activities that Mr. Charnoff ruled were as charitable in nature as those of the International Red Cross and the better known Atlanta-based CARE.
But he said that had he been shown the newsletter, Al-Hussam, which he should have been because it was already being published when Care applied for tax exempt status, it would have given him second thoughts. He noted that its stories seemed supportive of such acts as the killing of 13 Indian soldiers in Kashmir and to always take sides.
But while Care failed to list the newsletter as one of its activities - the reason the defendants are charged with defrauding the United States - David Duncan, Mr. Muntasser's lawyer, pointed out that there were expenditures listed under "postage" and "fundraising expenses." Especially because the IRS discourages fundraising from being listed as a program activity, he suggested the defendants are being prosecuted for a matter of judgment on where to list the newsletter expenses.
But Mr. Charnoff told Ms. Seigmann that the newsletter was unlike other fundraising devices because it did not suggest or provide a way for readers to send money. Nor did it meet the IRS' guidelines for an educational exemption because of "substantial use of inflammatory and disparaging terms, and expressed conclusions more on the basis of strong emotional feelings than of objective evaluations."
But, he acknowledged to Mr. Duncan, the IRS would not refuse a religious organization an exemption because it makes religiously based emotional appeals. He also conceded that Care has the right to quote the Quran saying that jihad is required of Muslims.
Mr. Charnoff said of Al-Hussam, "I'm not absolutely certain it would violate" IRS regulations, but he said he is certain he would have referred the matter higher up the chain of command for input - possibly including from the State Department.
The government has already amended the indictment so that it only has to prove that failure to mention the newsletter and an alleged connection to Al-Kifah Refugee Center "could have influenced (rather than did influence) actions of the government official who was charged with granting the defendants' organization tax exempt status."
The defendants: Three former officials of Care International, a defunct Muslim charity in Boston, including Shrewsbury resident Muhamed Mubayyid, 42, formerly of Westboro; Emadeddin Z. Muntasser, 42 of Braintree, and Samir Al-Monla, 50, of Boston, both formerly of Worcester.
Background: All are charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States from April 1993 to April 2003, by concealing material facts, and obstructing and impeding the Internal Revenue Service.
Mr. Mubayyid also is charged with three counts of filing a false tax return in connection with the government's contention that all three withheld information that might have affected the IRS decision to grant Care tax exempt status.
They did not reveal that Care allegedly supported Muslim holy war and the mujahedeen who fight it, and that it allegedly was an outgrowth of the Al-Kifah Refugee Center, a New York-based organization that has been tied to the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center in New York.
Mr. Muntasser and Mr. Al-Monla are each charged with making a false statement to an FBI agent. The government alleges that Mr. Muntasser was Care president from 1993 to 1996, Mr. Al-Monla was president from 1996 to 1998 and Mr. Mubayyid was treasurer from 1997 to 2003.