A BOLTON Islamic relief charity is among a group of Muslim organisations to be told by banking giants HSBC that it will close its account in September.
The Ummah Welfare Trust was visited by officials from HSBC who told bosses that continuing services would be “too risky” for the bank — but refused to divulge on what grounds.
The charity, in St Helens Road, Daubhill, raises millions of pounds each year to send relief to war-torn countries, including Syria and Palestine.
Trustee Mohammed Ahmad said he believes the timing of the bank’s decision means it could be related to the charity’s work in Gaza, where it says it has been sending medical supplies and aid to help thousands of displaced people.
In a letter to the trust, HSBC wrote that “provision of banking services now falls outside our risk appetite”, and that it was not prepared to open another account for the charity.
In the same week it wrote to Finsbury Park Mosque in north London and the Islamic think tank Cordoba Foundation, notifying them their accounts would be closed.
Mr Ahmad told The Bolton News: “Because of the timing I think it is related to Gaza.
“If the banks believed we had links with Hamas they wouldn’t have needed to choose this timing — working with the Charity Commission they could stop the account at any time, as charities shouldn’t be operating full stop (if they are funding alleged terrorist organisations).
“We do believe it is because we are an Islamic organisation. We have one thing in common with the other organisations which have had their accounts removed, and that actually shows us.
“Can they tell us how many Israeli charities operating in Gaza who bank with HSBC have had their accounts stopped?”
He added: “We have been given two months’ notice, and it came during a very busy period in the last week of our holy month — as a rough estimate we have probably collected at least £3 million.
“The letter claimed it was risk, and we asked what kind of risk? There is a national and international dimension.
“Nationally it doesn’t make sense as we are always in credit, and we have never taken out loans from the bank.
“I asked them if it was to do with international transfers, and they were very cold.
"I have heard since that letters have been issued to other organisations that don’t have an international dimension, so we have ruled that out.
“There’s no answer. For them to do this at such a sensitive time, when there’s a war in Gaza, I think they are on the wrong side against humanity and relief work.
“We asked if they were under pressure from certain lobby groups, and they didn’t deny the fact and they didn’t confirm.
“It leads us to believe that the action is related to Gaza.”
He added the charity has two other accounts, and there will be no impact on the short-term operations of the trust.
A spokesman for the bank said they could not discuss their relationship with a customer, but insisted business decisions were not based on religious reasons.
He said: “In general terms, decisions to end a customer relationship are not taken lightly, but are absolutely not based on the race or religion of a customer.
“Discrimination against customers on grounds of race or religion is immoral, unacceptable and illegal, and HSBC has comprehensive rules and policies in place to ensure race or religion are never factors in the decisions we make."
HSBC was fined in £1.2 billion by US authorities in December, 2012, after a Senate investigation found it had been used as a channel of money-laundering for "drug kingpins and rogue nations".