13 Jun 2019

Mosque victims want answers from Islamic groups over donated funds

From Checkpoint, 6:15 pm on 13 June 2019

Witnesses to the 15 March mosque attacks are asking for more accountability from the Islamic groups that have been raising money for victims.

On top of the $10.5 million raised by Victim Support and the $6 million donated to the Christchurch Foundation, Islamic groups including the Auckland-based At Taqwa Trust and the Islamic Information Centre have raised $2.7 million.

Most of that $2.7m was given to Victim Support three weeks ago for it to hand on to victims on the Islamic group's behalf.

But victims spoken to wanted to know exactly how much money had been raised by the Islamic groups and how it would be distributed.

Ahmed Khan came to New Zealand 13 years ago from Afghanistan but said the scenes he witnessed on 15 March were worse than anything he experienced in his country of birth.

"I did see lots of tragedy in Afghanistan, obviously every day on the television, but I have never seen a tragedy that close and people dying in front of [me].

"Out of those people who got affected and the deceased ones I know at least 45 people. I went to university with some of them and my uncle is one of the shaheed [martyrs] as well."

The millions that have been raised for the victims and their families were going some way to help the community heal.

Whether it be paying the bills for a family that had lost its main breadwinner or helping extended family to fly here from overseas to offer support - the money was much appreciated.

But Mr Khan said he and others at the Linwood mosque had been left completely in the dark about how much the Auckland-based Islamic groups had raised and what this money would be spent on.

"All these organisations have collected a massive amount of donations and they are not telling the victims. Why did they collect this money? And how much do they have in their account right now, and how will they distribute this?

"And I think I will probably say that on behalf of those 283 directly affected people, every single person is having the same question that I'm having at the moment."

Abdul Aziz, witness of Linwood mosque shooting

Abdul Aziz Photo: RNZ/ Conan Young

Seven people lost their lives at the Linwood mosque.

Abdul Aziz was credited with preventing any more deaths by throwing an Eftpos machine at the shooter who then got back in his car and fled the scene.

He echoed the same sentiments as Mr Khan.

"They collected a lot of money but they haven't said how much they're collecting .

"They should answer to those victims ... because the money is not their money, it's the victims' money."

Mr Khan said he wanted to see an independent audit of the Islamic fundraisers so that everybody could have confidence that the donors' wishes were being adhered to.

The Islamic fundraisers have established a committee to oversee the millions of dollars that were flooding in, often from fellow Muslims around the world.

It is chaired by Ahmad Zainudin who said all of the money handed out so far had been funnelled through Victim Support, including a payment of $2.4m that was given to it three weeks ago on the proviso it only went to the bereaved and injured.

Victim Support was the only organisation that had access to the official police list of the victims, he said.

"To be honest with you, all our charities, they work very hard. You know At Taqwa involves a few hundred people to raise funds. They work day and night to raise funds.

"They didn't just sit around and it [the money] comes in, it's a lot of work," Mr Zainudin said.

All meetings held by his committee had involved input from the Department of Internal Affairs, which was in charge of making sure fundraisers acted within the law.

He noted that most of the money they had raised was now in the hands of Victim Support apart from a pledge of $2m from an overseas donor.

This donor wanted to remain anonymous at this stage while it worked out how they would like to see the money distributed.

"Nobody can compensate for life right? Like this. There's no price for life. But what we can do is we can only give them comfort, that's all."

Christchurch lawyer Andrew Oh

Christchurch lawyer Andrew Oh Photo: RNZ / Conan Young

Christchurch lawyer Andrew Oh, who had been helping a group of 64 victims concerned about how the money was being divided up, said there was a lot of angst in the community about the money that had been raised by the Islamic groups.

And it was not just confined to those at the Linwood mosque, he said.

"I've certainly heard from victims who went to Al Noor mosque as well. And I think quite a number of them feel that they haven't been communicated to properly.

"And again, it is easily solved by making sure that there's an audit of these organisations.

"I think at the end of the day, if the audit comes back and shows the money's come in, and it's gone to where it should have gone, then that's all anyone's asking for and I think this issue goes away."

He said it was important that this whole process was handled properly so that those giving money were not put off from doing so again in future.

"I'd hate this to be a stumbling block for people in the future when they came to respond to a situation such as this, where they started thinking, 'should I shouldn't I? Maybe I'll wait and see what happens before I make my donations'.

"And I think once that happens we're going to see a bit of the Kiwi spirit lost -  that's not who we are," Mr Oh said.

In a statement, Victim Support said was close to making the payments on behalf of the Islamic organisations.

It said these were not Victim Support payments and the amounts and categories of people they went to had been decided by the Islamic groups.

Victim Support said these payments would be separate to payments it would be making from its own fund towards the end of June.

A 50-strong petition asking for the government to look into how much money had been raised by the Islamic groups and where the money was going will be presented to local MP Megan Woods on Friday.