Terrorism Asset Freezing Orders makes innocent people become financial “prisoners of the state”, writes Fahad Ansari.
On 1 October 2014, Assistant Chief Constable Marcus Beale of West Midlands Police told BBC News that “Moazzam Begg is an innocent man”. His words came as all charges against Begg were suddenly dropped just days before his trial for providing physical fitness training to a Syrian rebel group was due to begin.
In his first interview following his release from Belmarsh prison, Begg revealed that his passport had still not been returned to him and that he remained subject to a Terrorism Asset Freezing Order (TAFO), such that he could not even buy Eid gifts for his children nor could they buy them for him. Despite his innocence being declared, Begg and his family remained criminalised. Although the Order was later lifted, the episode brought to light the harsh reality of TAFOs.
The powers to issues TAFOs are some of the most draconian tools available to the government to use against terror suspects, yet very little is known about them in comparison to the lengthy public discussions that revolve around Control Orders and Terrorism Preventative Investigative Measures (TPIMs). It is because of the devastating impact that the measures have on the families of terror suspects that Helping Households Under Great Stress (HHUGS) has felt obliged to support them at a time when their lives have become so constrained.
TAFOs are implemented under the Terrorist Asset Freezing Act 2010 (TAFA). The Act gives the Treasury the power to freeze the assets of individuals and groups thought to be involved in terrorism, whether in the UK or abroad, and to deprive them of access to financial resources.
The test for designating an individual or a group under TAFA is that there must be a reasonable belief that that the individual or group is or has been involved in terrorist activity and that the measure is necessary for purposes connected with public protection. The public however is not just the British public but the public of any country anywhere in the world. Therefore someone believed to be or have been involved with the struggle to overthrow Gaddhafi while he was an ally of Britain could be subjected to such sanctions, and indeed were subjected to such measures during that period.
The power is not only devoid of any form of Parliamentary scrutiny but it also operates independently of the criminal justice system: it can be used whether or not a designated individual has been charged with or convicted of a criminal offence. There is no need to seek permission from a court before designation.
Prisoners of the State
The Orders can be appealed against through a shadowy Orwellian purported system of justice that utilises secret evidence that is not shown to either the Appellant or his legal representative, but only to court-appointed ‘Special Advocates’ who themselves are prohibited from discussing it with the Appellant.
Those in custody or abroad may, depending on their circumstances, barely be affected at all. When applied to persons at liberty in the UK, however, designation has the potential to be highly intrusive and restrictive of everyday life. So much so that the Supreme Court has described the measures as “paralysing”, “draconian” and leaving those involved as “effectively prisoners of the state“.
A TAFO effectively imposes prohibitions on dealing with funds and economic resources held or controlled by a designated person, and on making funds, economic resources and financial services available to or for the benefit of a designated person. The penalty for contravening a prohibition is up to seven years imprisonment.
What this essentially means is that a designated person cannot withdraw money from his bank account, use any cash or prepaid, debit or credit cards without first obtaining a license from the Treasury. Designated persons must apply to the Treasury for a license to incur any expenditure even if it is for food, groceries, rent/mortgage, medicines, utility bills and clothes although it is not obligatory on the Treasury to license the full amount apart from what it considers reasonable. For example, the Treasury will be the ones who decide whether or not your children should get Jaffa Cakes this week. Try explaining that to a toddler having a tantrum in the Tesco shopping aisle.
Furthermore, it is a criminal offence to provide the designated person with any financial benefit, whether that be in the form of cash or in kind. It is a crime to settle or ‘write off’ their debts, pay their utility bills or even buy them too many meals as this would amount to a significant financial benefit. Even borrowing your spouse’s Oyster card on too many occasions would be prohibited as it would alleviate the need for you to obtain your own Oyster card and thereby obtain a significant financial benefit.
The wife of a detainee in a foreign prison was recently informed that she was in breach of the sanctions for sending her husband money in prison. HHUGS is assisting the 80-year-old mother of a Syrian individual who is designated. Despite her financial difficulties with bailiffs attending her home and causing her severe distress and anxiety, it has become a risk to even send her shopping vouchers lest it be believed that her son would obtain a financial benefit from it. Her son cannot even do her shopping for her or face arrest as a result.
Receipts must be obtained and submitted to the Treasury for every transaction and where a receipt is not available, full details of the transaction must be provided including the date, time, amount spent, where the money was spent and a description of what was purchased.
So a designated mother who decided to buy her children a bag of sweets on the way home from school had first to ensure she obtained a receipt or made a note of the transaction and submitted it to the Treasury.
A teenager subjected to such sanctions could not purchase a bus pass to attend college because there was a very small risk that he might use it for purposes unconnected with his education.
The wife of a designated person could not pay the family utility bills because the designated person would receive a significant financial benefit. HHUGS has even had to obtain a license to send dates or cupcakes to the families of designated individuals to celebrate Eid.
These are real life examples of difficulties designated persons and their families have faced in the UK which has the potential to tear apart families and drive them into despair and depression. It is worth re-emphasising that the Treasury can impose these sanctions without having to apply to a court or show any evidence of wrongdoing.
HHUGS has been assisting and supporting designated persons and their families for many years through the securing of licenses from the Treasury. HHUGS has applied to the Treasury for specific licenses to support beneficiaries subjected to the regime for matters such as a trip to LEGOLAND, car insurance and shopping vouchers.
In a climate where many wish to help but face the choice of either directly helping and thereby committing a crime or applying for a license and risking guilt by association, HHUGS offers a third viable solution acting as a vehicle through which support can be provided. Specific donations may be made to HHUGS to assist the families of designated persons. Those funds are then utilised when requests are made to obtain licenses for various forms of expenditure. In doing so, HHUGS operates as a life-saving oxygen mask for families being suffocated by the State.
Donate now to HHUGS and make a real difference in the lives of these people. Like Moazzam Begg, they are innocent until proven guilty.
*Moazzam Begg will be speaking at 10 Years of HHUGS, Embracing Families, Empowering Lives fundraising dinner on Sunday 14 December 2014 in London. Other speakers include Victoria Brittain, Dr. Uthman Lateef, Imam Shakeel Begg, Haris Farooqi, Adnan Rashid, and Imam Wasim Kempson.
Tickets can be purchased here.
You can follow Fahad Ansari on Twitter @fahadansari