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UAE accused of influencing HSBC to close bank accounts of British Muslims

An investigation has unearthed links between HSBC and the UAE in closing bank accounts of British Muslim individuals and organisations
Muslim organisations have accused HSBC of discrimination for closing down their accounts (AFP)

The United Arab Emirates may have contributed to HSBC closing bank accounts owned by the family of a well-known British Muslim and his think tank, a new BBC investigation has revealed.

Daily Mail and Middle East Eye columnist Peter Oborne and BBC journalist Anna Meisel reported on Tuesday that the UAE listed the Cordoba Foundation as being linked to terrorism on a database used by HSBC.

The Cordoba Foundation is a UK-based organisation that says it works to improve dialogue between Islam and the West. The group had its bank account unceremonially closed in July last year, as did its chief executive Anas al-Tikriti along with several other prominent British Muslim individuals and organisations.

Oborne said that the word terrorism was listed next to the Cordoba Foundation on WorldCheck, a private database owned by the global financial information company Thomson Reuters that is used by 49 of the world's largest 50 banks to help them make risk assessments relating to new or existing account holders.

“I’m now entering the Cordoba Foundation into the WorldCheck website, it’s loading now, it’s come up,” Oborne said on "HSBC, Muslims, and Me", to be aired at 2000 BST Tuesday on BBC Radio 4. “And in red the first word I see is ‘terrorism’. Actually two things, Cordoba Foundation and above it terrorism in dark red.”

“It’s reportedly listed as a terrorist organisation by the cabinet of UAE - the United Arab Emirates. So this designation by the UAE has caused the Cordoba Foundation to be linked to terrorism on this website.”

Sources in the WorldCheck database that backed up the accusation linking the Cordoba Foundation to terrorism included official UAE news agency WAM and anonymous online blog Global Muslim Brotherhood Watch.

At the time of the bank account closures last year Tikriti suggested that the UAE, which he said held a significant stake in HSBC, may have played a role in the bank's decision to close several accounts owned by him, his wife and two teenage children.

The UAE listed the Cordoba Foundation as a terrorist organisation in November last year, along with a number of other groups including the Muslim Brotherhood, a group Tikriti is widely reported as having links with, although he denies any official affiliation.

Oborne went on to link the bank account closures to the UK government review of the Muslim Brotherhood, which was commissioned in April last year, allegedly under pressure from Gulf allies the UAE and Saudi Arabia, and is still yet to be published.

An unnamed senior official told Oborne that "there is a definite connection between the bank account closures and the review of the Brotherhood". Banking industry experts told the former chief political commentator at the Telegraph that the government review had "created an atmosphere of concern" but that there "was no pressure from the government to close accounts".

Tikriti told MEE in a statement that he was appauled by the closure of the bank accounts.

"The fact that an unknown entity provides information to third parties, in this case banks, on myself and my work which I have absolutely no control over and no say in confirming or refuting, without my knowledge and without having the capacity or ability to respond to, rectify or explain, is beyond belief," he said.

Tikriti added that it was "quite incredible" the UAE could designate the Cordoba Foundation a terrorist organisation, a group he said that operates "according to British company and financial laws". He demanded that "secretive profit-making entities such as WorldCheck be investigated, their sources exposed and the information they provide on customers be openly published and allowed to be challenged."

HSBC did not answer Oborne's questions about the account closures but did reiterate that "decisions to end a customer relationship are not taken lightly and are absolutely not based on the race or religion of a customer".

WorldCheck said in a statement that they only use "reputable sources" and that information on their database must be verified. It added that all decisions relating to account closures remain with the banks.

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