Pandemic has brought people together to help each other in the time of need. Many organisations and individuals have worked extensively during the first and second wave to provide support to those who were in need. Unfortunately, for some organisations and individuals, such devastating time become a way to collect funds illegitimately in the name of charity. Earlier, OpIndia has reported about several possibly illegal campaigns running in India.
A similar and detailed expose has been done by DisInfo Lab on an Islamic organisation named IMANA-Islamic Medical Association of North America. Notably, on April 26, US President Joe Biden made a public appeal that India had helped the US in time of need and now its US turn to help India. Who would have thought that such appeal would lead to mushrooming of fundraisers on the next two days by Islamist organisations running from the neighbouring country, Pakistan.
IMANA’s current chief is Dr Ismail Abadan Mehr, a Pakistani origin American citizen.
This was a well-planned operation – to exploit the tragedy as opportunity – and this was not first time such heist was taking place, but one of the biggest till date. (2/n) pic.twitter.com/Ryv3M0Bp75— DisInfo Lab (@DisinfoLab) June 14, 2021
Keep in mind that IMANA has no office, brand, or representative in India. However, it did not stop them from organising an aggressive fundraiser in the name of providing support to India. They used hashtags like #IStandWithIndia, which made people overlook the real intent of the organisation. They ran aid campaigns on Instagram, that is, in today’s time, one of the fastest ways to attract traffic to fundraisers.
According to the Disinfo Lab’s report, IMANA received huge amounts in a short span and frequently revised the target amount as soon as the previous target was met. A similar trend was seen in Hemkunt Foundation’s fundraiser on Ketto. In the case of IMANA, if someone raised a question over their intentions or asked about the updates, the person would be flooded with accusations of Islamophobia.
It is an Illinois-based medical relief organisation that was earlier named Islamic Medical Association (IMA). It claimed to have worked in different parts of the world, and the website shows how much ‘work’ they have done in the past.
The red flags
The fundraiser #HelpIndiaBreathe was created on April 27, 2021. The initial target was 1.8 crores. Interestingly, for this particular fundraiser, they used a map that has been approved by India despite the fact that the founder is of Pakistan-origin, and the website has the map endorsed by the Pakistani government.
As stated in the DisInfo Lab report, normally organisations start with a plan and pen it down in the fundraiser description. In the case of IMANA, the process was in reverse. They did not provide details of what they were going to do with the funds. However, their pitching on Instagram worked, and they managed to collect over Rs.8.7 crores, while the last revised target was 5.62 crore.
The collection was so much that IMANA kept revising its target. IMANA Relief Chairman Dr Mehr claimed on May 7th that they got $100k first day, and thereafter $100k per hour! meaning anywhere bw INR 30 cr – 150 cr was collected by IMANA alone. #IMANACaresFraud— DisInfo Lab (@DisinfoLab) June 14, 2021
Interestingly, they ran similar campaigns on other fundraising platforms like Just Giving, where they raised around Rs.2 crore. The donation options were another red flag as they included stocks and cryptocurrencies. There is no way to find out how much money they collected via these means. IMANA has not provided any details about the funds, and it is unlikely they ever will.
According to DisInfo Lab’s calculations based on the funds they collected in the specific time period, there was a time they were receiving donations at a speed of $100K per hour. The total amount, as per the calculations, can be anywhere between Rs.30 crore to Rs.158 crore. DisInfo Lab said, “Given that IMANA has almost zero transparency about the fund it collected, there is no way to ascertain the actual amount it might have received.”
India’s goodwill worked in favour of IMANA
IMANA is not that strong of a brand that it managed to collect such a huge amount for helping India. It was, indeed, India’s goodwill across the globe and made such huge donations possible. In fact, they used India’s goodwill to promote other fundraisers too. They started a fundraiser for Gaza almost immediately after the India one and collected close to $30,000.
Capitalizing on India’s goodwill, several charity grps collected huge funds worldwide in the name of Covid help. One such org was IMANA-Islamic Medical Ass. of North America. It launched fund raiser campaign #HelpIndiaBreath on Insta, Gofundme & its website(3/n) pic.twitter.com/9NdCQRbeyq— DisInfo Lab (@DisinfoLab) June 14, 2021
Dubious claims and their reality
During several interviews, Dr Ismail Mehr of IMANA made several dubious claims. He claimed to have purchased Medical Equipment worth $800,000 on May 7 that included 100k Nasal cannulas, 40k non-breather masks, 450 Oxygen concentrators. It never reached India.
They also claimed to have tied up with Air India for free shipment to Delhi. Another claim stated that they had elaborated a network of people and organisations working on the ground that included Hindu and Sikh volunteers. Another claim suggested they have tied up with India’s DRDO and the Ministry of Agriculture.
None of these claims could be verified from the information available in open source. Also, it is highly unlikely organisations like DRDO would tie up with a US-based organisation with members from Pakistan-origin for any relief work in India or even help them to coordinate with people on the ground.
What happened to all the money?— DisInfo Lab (@DisinfoLab) June 14, 2021
IMANA was opaque about how this huge sum was to be spent. They made rather tall claims, including tie up with @airindiain,@DRDO_India and @AgriGoI – but there has been nothing to show on ground at all.
Some other claims included support to hospitals in Jaipur, Mumbai, Kolkata and Bengaluru, but none of them was updated by IMANA. Interestingly, they mentioned support to SMS Hospital Jaipur that already has an oxygen plant setup.
Tie-up with non-FCRA organisations
Interestingly, IMANA tied up with Gujarat Sewa Welfare Trust (GSWT) via Afzal Memon and Saiyed Foundation. GSWT is not FCRA approved organisation and have been in the news for all the wrong reasons. Afzal Memon is a US-based businessman who allegedly got a call from his friends in Gujarat seeking help with oxygen concentrators. He launched a small fundraiser for 25 oxygen concentrators and collected funds for the same.
On April 27, he announced that he had contacted Saiyed Foundation to deliver the concentrators. On April 30, Saiyed and Az Memon announced a collaboration with a 501c3 IRS certified non-profit but did not mention the organisation’s name. Saiyed Foundation Facebook page mentioned that they have tied up with IMANA.
Another name that emerged was RJ Dhwanit, a Gujarat-based Radio Jockey. He invited Az Memon for an interview on his show. During the interview, he kept trying to help highlighting good initiatives by Memon. The interview worked, and Az Memon raised $37,761 on GoFundMe, and $38,976k were raised on Launch Good by Saiyed Foundation.
Notably, Saiyed Foundation is a defunct company as it failed to comply with tax filings in 2018. The current registers show it as an inactive company. It had NIL transactions during six years of existence. Their social media accounts were also created on the day fundraisers were created.
Az Memon sent around 120 concentrators, for which it took three weeks after collecting the funds. The concentrators were sent to GSWT that further claimed to have distributed to 14 healthcare hospitals in Ahmedabad. Az Memon thanked IMANA, RJ Dhvanit, EquallyAble.org, Zakariya Academy, UPS Foundation, Overseas Electronics, and Gandhi Shipping for assistance in delivery.
It has to be noted that GSWT has once stated that they have been trying to get FCRA since 2003, but due to their “activities against the public interest”, it never went through.
IMANA and Shifa Hospital
100 oxygen concentrators were sent to India by IMANA that were used at Shifa hospital, run by GSWT. Notably, the same hospital was in the news as three of its employees were caught selling Remdesivir in the black market.
Farce in the Name of Help— DisInfo Lab (@DisinfoLab) June 14, 2021
IMANA did claim to send 100 Oxy-Concentrators to Shifa Hospital, Ahmadabad in collaboration with another US based ‘charity’ Saiyad Fdn. Ironically, SF was a defunct org which separately collected $ 80k aprox in name of #HelpGujratBreath!
The list of organisations who were running similar campaigns
IMANA was not the only organisation running fundraisers on the pretext of helping India. DisInfo Lab found at least 66 such campaigns on just one platform, Launch Good. DisInfo Lab said, “Some of the major organisations that have collected funds on Launch Good include- ICNA Relief Canada, Human Concern International (Canada), Helping Hand for Relief and Development (HHRD), and Islamic Relief UK.”
Then There are more:— DisInfo Lab (@DisinfoLab) June 14, 2021
It was found that 66 Fund Raisers were being run on a single platforms – Launch Good – in name of India – and collected another $800k+. None of the groups gave details abt help and beneficiaries, except scanty facts here and there. #CovidAidHeist
Helping Hand for Relief and Development USA (HHRD) is the international front of Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) Relief USA. HHRD and ICNA are self-identified US charities of Jamaat-e-Islami (Jel) based out of Pakistan. According to DisInfo Lab, In Dec 2017, HHRD organised a conference in Pakistan. Other organisations sponsoring the event included the Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation, the charitable wing of the Pakistani terrorist organisation, Lashkar-e-Taiba.
Several organisations with questionable background and no FCRA approval ran campaigns and collected funds. There were around 23 such organisations, and they managed to collect over USD 1.2 million with small fundraisers.
ISNA/IMANA’s terror and Pakistan army links
Reportedly ISNA and IMANA have links to terror organisations across the world. ISNA has been alleged to provide funds to Hamas. They have provided funds to Al-Khidmat Foundation, which is the ‘charity wing’ of JeI which has been funding Hamas.
Terror Links:— DisInfo Lab (@DisinfoLab) June 14, 2021
All these organizations have strong links with Pak based radical Islamists and terror groups including Al-Qaeda, HM, Let. The linkages have been detailed in Report as well as in our Report on USCIRF. (14/n)https://t.co/08a3nOvNvq
IMANA also provides help to Al-Mustafa Welfare Trust (AMT), which is part of Pakistan’s Milbus’ military capital’. It is sued for the personal benefit of the Pak Army fraternity. It is run by retired Army, Navy and Air Force personnel.
Global Terror Links – JeI/ Hamas— DisInfo Lab (@DisinfoLab) June 14, 2021
IMANA/ ISNA have also been funding Al-Khidmat, the ‘charity wing’ of JeI, and has also been funding Hamas. ISNA has also links with Holy Land Foundation, banned in USA for HAMAS links.
Notably, FIMA (Federation of Islamic Medical Associations) was founded by late Drs Ahmed El-Kadi and M.A.A. Khan. They also started the Annual Convention of IMANA in1981 in Florida. Dr Ahmed El-Kadi, IMANA President during 1974-75, is the former head of the Muslim Brotherhood. FIMA is linked to PIMA (Pakistan Islamic Medical Association), which is affiliated to JeI Pakistan, Al-Khidmat, HM and Al-Qaeda.
A detailed report by DisInfo Lab can be read here.