The U.N. Security Council has quietly dropped Youssef Nada, a prominent financial and diplomatic representative of the Muslim Brotherhood, from an international sanctions list directed at curbing the activities of alleged terrorist financiers. The delisting of Nada, by the Al-Qaida and Taliban Sanctions Committee, was announced by this official notice
posted on the Security Council’s Web site. In addition to Nada himself, the notice declares that two businesses associated with him, Waldenberg AG of Liechtenstein and Youssef M. Nada & Co. GMBH of Vienna, also have been removed from the U.N. sanctions list.
The Security Council’s announcement does not explain why the council decided to drop financial sanctions against Nada and his companies—sanctions intended to curb their ability to conduct financial activities anywhere in the world. But Victor Comras, a former adviser on financial sanctions to the U.S. State Department and, later, an adviser to the committee that produced the sanctions lists, says he find the U.N. action troubling. "To my mind this is a great mistake. I'm kind of mystified by it," Comras told Declassified. When Nada was put on the U.N. sanctions list, it was done with great public fanfare, Comras said. But when the U.N. decided to take his name off, it was done with a minimum of public discussion.
In an e-mail, Comras added: "Even though Nada may no longer be involved in funding Al Qaeda, he has made it clear a number of times that he will continue as a major financial supporter of Hamas . . . As you know, Nada never really suffered from the [U.N. listing]. He continued to live well, travel, and, most likely, to access and manipulate his assets through his family and others." Nada has previously denied any involvement with Al Qaeda.
Comras also noted that given the fact that all listing and delisting decisions by the U.N. sanctions committee have to be unanimous, at some point, in his view, the Obama administration would have had to signal that it was willing to go along with Nada's delisting. Nada and his companies were placed on a terrorist-finance sanctions list maintained by the U.S. Treasury before they were added to U.N.'s list; according to the list currently available on the Treasury Department's Web site, Nada and his companies are still on it.
In a statement, a Treasury spokesperson said that the U.S. has supported "the removal of those individuals who are no longer appropriate for listing pursuant to that specific regime." But the spokesperson added that Nada remains on the Treasury's U.S.-only sanctions list.
In a telephone call to NEWSWEEK on Wednesday afternoon, Nada confirmed that he was aware that his name had been dropped from the U.N. sanctions list but that it was still on the American list. He expressed puzzlement as to why he's still on it. Nada said he had applied about a year ago for his name to be taken off the U.N. list.
Nada reiterated his longtime denials that he had been involved in any dealings or contacts with either Al Qaeda or the Taliban. He also denied any contacts with Hamas, which he said was separate from the Muslim Brotherhood, of which he still acknowledges he is a member. Nada said he was "not going to sue anyone" in pursuit of compensation for the sanctions that have now been dropped, but that he was going to try to unfreeze and recover assets that had been frozen as a result of the U.N. action.
An animated but courtly individual who once welcomed Declassified's authors into his home for two days while we filmed a documentary for PBS, Nada reputedly served for years as a semiofficial diplomatic representative of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Egypt-based fundamentalist movement that ultimately seeks the worldwide creation of an Islamic caliphate, but purports to do so through peaceful means. After splitting from the Brotherhood, disaffected members of the movement, such as deputy Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, subsequently created more violent and militant Islamist factions. While Nada has denied any connection with Al Qaeda, he has expressed support in the past for Palestinian resistance fighters. As one of the Brotherhood’s diplomatic representatives, he also had dealings with both the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and the ayatollahs who now rule Iran.
The Bush administration added Nada, his companies, and a key business associate to the U.S. terrorist-finance sanctions list in the wake of 9/11 after examining intelligence suggesting that a network of Islamic investment companies called Al-Taqwa, based in Switzerland, Liechtenstein, and the Bahamas, had handled money for people believed to be associates of Osama bin Laden. At one point, as NEWSWEEK reported after 9/11, Nada's Bank Al Taqwa was sued in the Bahamas by Ghalib Mohammed Binladin, a brother of Osama, for failing to pay out $2.5 million that Ghalib claimed he was owed. The lawsuit was dismissed.
The Bush administration touted the use of financial sanctions—which it and the U.N. Security Council both routinely imposed on companies and individuals without first offering them an opportunity to challenge the sanctions listings—as an effective method of shutting down terrorist networks without having to reveal intelligence secrets in public. However, human-rights activists complained that such procedures were unfair and illegal because they lacked any semblance of due process for those sanctioned.
A European diplomat, who also asked for anonymity, suggested that the U.N.'s decision to drop Nada from its sanctions list may have been prompted by recent political developments in Switzerland. Earlier this month the Swiss Parliament’s foreign-relations committee approved a proposal to create a mechanism under which the Swiss government would have to stop enforcing international financial sanctions against people on the U.N. list in circumstances where little had been proved against them. As we reported in 2005, Swiss authorities conducted their own lengthy criminal investigation of Nada and his financial network but ultimately "suspended" it without issuing any criminal charges.