Malaysia is using Northern Cyprus as a hub for Hamas terror financing
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A controversial financier with alleged ties to Islamist war criminals is now said to have partnered with the Malaysian royal family to funnel money through an unregulated bank in Turkish-occupied Northern Cyprus, raising renewed concerns of Malaysian illicit financing and support for terrorism against Israel and the West.
Bensen Safa is a Turkish-Cypriot banker who since at least the early 2010s partnered with a Malaysian royal family to revive derelict Mondial Private Bank in Northern Cyprus. The bank is currently primarily owned by the estate of the late Raja Ashman Shah, who passed away in 2012, with Safa controlling the bank as a member of the senior management. Under Safa’s management, the bank in recent years was accused of defrauding a Brazilian-Dutch company for $35 million after failing to return the deposited funds, prompting legal action against him and the bank in highly politicized Northern Cypriot courts.
The existence of the bank owned by the Malaysian royal family raises long-standing concerns of Malaysia’s illicit financing that could be “exploited” to provide material support for Iran and Hamas.
“Malaysia continues to serve as a jurisdiction of concern that regards to Iranian and Hamas activity and other terrorist actors,” according to Dr. Jonathan Schanzer, senior vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “The Malaysian government appears to be a willing participant, it is also clear after the 1MDB scandal that there is an illicit finance challenge.”
Malaysia has long maintained its image as a nation virulently opposing Israel and in support of Iranian and Palestinian terrorism, earning the label as Hamas “powerbase.” Since 2012, international media reports openly alleged Malaysia’s possible role in financing Hamas’ activities.
In 2013, Malaysia’s former Prime Minister Najib Razak, sentenced last year to 12 years in prison for participating in the 1Malaysia Development Berhad corruption schemes, visited Gaza and met with senior Hamas officials and its military wing. Hamas touted Razak’s visit as an “Islamic declaration for breaking the Israeli siege on Gaza.” That same year, Hamas’ head of political bureau Khaled Mashaal visited Malaysia upon Razak’s invitation, the first ever such visit by a Hamas official to the country. Razak pledged approximately $6.4 million for projects in Gaza.
In 2014, the Shin Bet revealed that Malaysia provided paragliding training to elite Hamas commandoes inside Malaysia ostensibly for the purpose of conducting terror attacks inside Israel.
More recently, in 2018, Mossad allegedly eliminated Fadi Mohammad al-Batsh, a Palestinian native in Malaysia who was identified as a frontman and researcher specialising in rocket and drone accuracy for Hamas. Independent media reports confirmed that al-Batsh was suspected of working on technology to counteract Israel’s defence systems and even moved cash from Malaysia to Gaza as early as 2011.
“Northern Cyprus is a potential grey zone for this kind of activity; finance or even training or for other activities of concern,” Schanzer said. “A territory that is formally part of the EU on the one hand, and on the other hand completely subservient to a rogue NATO member state that is supporting Hamas rather openly and allowing for Iranian finance to flow through its financial system.”
Details are murky how the Malaysian royal family got involved in with Safa, whose prior experience only included running a small currency exchange in Northern Cyprus and serving as the managing editor of Islamist newspaper Hakkaniyet that was closely aligned with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan.
The partnership was likely struck thanks to the Naqshbandi movement, a major Sufi Muslim strand embraced by Erodgan himself. The late Raja Ashman Shah has been a known follower of the movement, with Mondial Private Bank becoming closely aligned with the Naqshbandi movement.
Safa’s current activities are less ambiguous. A current resident of Dubai, Safa is the executive chairman of First Asset Management & Corporate Advisory company providing “asset management” in Dubai and Malaysia, director and co-owner of Corporate International Business Finance LLC (CIB Finance) in Dubai, and affiliated with Credit Investment Bank Ltd (CIB) in Malaysia.
CIB-named companies have further links to the Malaysian royal family and the Naqshbandi movement. Raja Ashman Shah personally was a shareholder of a short-lived UK-registered CIB Finance Ltd company together with Behaeddin Adil, another member of senior management of Mondial Private Bank who happens to be one of the sons of Sheikh Nazim al-Haqqani, a former leader of the Naqshbandi movement.
Safa is also the co-owner and controlling shareholder of Islamic bank Kibris Faisal Islam Bankasi (Faisal Islam Bank) and a subsidiary investment company, Faisal Islamic Investment Corporation Ltd. Several other shareholders of the latter company include Sudanese political and military figures that formed the inner circle of the illegal Omar al-Bashir dictatorial regime, most notably former Sudanese vice president Aly Osman Mohamed Taha, who has been an instrumental figure in the genocide of non-Arab tribes of Darfur and has been accused of providing a safe haven to known terror leaders such as Osama bin Laden and anti-Israel terrorist Carlos the Jackal.
Until 2018, among Safa’s Faisal Islam Bank management was Turkish national Ozgur Erker who in 2012 was implicated in US federal proceedings against Reza Zarrab, a Turkish-Iranian businessman who admitted to orchestrating a multi-billion-dollar scheme using Turkey’s Halkbank to evade US sanctions against Iran. Court transcripts show that Erker, then an employee of Arab-Turk Bank, disclosed that Erdogan was open to conceal gold trade routes with Iran using Vakifbank and Ziraat Bank, both of which maintain branches in Northern Cyprus and deny their involvement.
“There is a real opportunity to exploit Northern Cyprus given that it lacks oversight, it is not formally part of any international bureaucratic structure. It falls through the cracks in terms of oversight and addressing these real concerns,” Schanzer says.
The Malaysian royal family’s continued involvement in Northern Cyprus through Safa shows dangers of lack of oversight that opens opportunities not only for rampant fraud but as well as funnelling or facilitating money in support of hostile nation states and terror groups.
Northern Cyprus has long urged international community to recognise its statehood without engaging in transparency reforms to shake off its image as a junk state for suspicious activities by Malaysian elite or others.
Source: Israel Hayom