Co-op Bank shuts down account belonging to Palestinian NGO Friends of Al-Aqsa ‘without explanation’

Friends of Al-Aqsa first realised that its account with the Co-op Bank was not working when it tried to access services in December

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The Independent Online

A British NGO that supports Palestine has called for public support after its Co-op Bank account was closed.

Friends of Al-Aqsa first realised that its account with the Co-op Bank was not working when it tried to access services in December.

When Ismail Patel, founder and chairman of Friends of Al-Aqsa, called Co-op Bank to find out what had happened, the bank said it had sent a letter notifying the organisation that it was closing its account.

“We only found out when we couldn’t make transactions so we got in touch with them. They said they sent us a letter to close the account and they didn’t want to discuss it,” Patel told the Independent.

Friends of Al-Aqsa is a British NGO that supports Palestine but does all of its work, including its transactions, in the UK, Patel said. It employed a lawyer to look into the account issue. 

Co-op Bank then agreed to keep the account for a 60-day notice period to allow time for the organisation to transfer its activities to another bank. That period ends on February 23.

“Unfortunately as a small organisation, trying to approach this is very difficult. The only means we have is public pressure,” Patel said.

Friends of Al-Aqsa and as many as 25 other Palestinian-affiliated organisations, including the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign, received letters from Co-op Bank last year notifying them that their accounts would be closed.

Co-op Bank said it cannot comment on individual organisations but that the decision to close the accounts was not a reflection on the work carried out by the organisations. 

It said it carries out due diligence checks on all of its customers, especially those operating in high risk environments, to make sure the funds do not inadvertently fund “illegal or other proscribed activities”.

“Unfortunately, after quite extensive research, the charities involved did not meet our requirements or, in our view, allow us to fulfil our obligations,” the spokesperson said. 

Tom Keatinge, director of the centre for financial crime and security studies at the Royal United Services Institute, told the Independent that Friends of Al-Aqsa’s issues with Co-op Bank are very common across the banking industry, especially after banks started receiving massive penalties for illegal transactions on their books.

The Government has delegated a role to banks to monitor the potential financing of terrorism, which means they must report suspicious financing or money laundering or face penalties. As such banks scrutinise clients sending money to parts of the world connected with terrorism. This can have an impact on charties whose work is in conflict areas.

“Unfortunately for a lot of charities, at some point banks say, we are not making money out of banking NGOs so we are going to close these accounts,” Keatinge said.