Saudi embassy in Australia accused of paying salaries of Imams, which unacceptable for so many reasons. "Taxation office to probe Muslim cleric on Saudi cash," The Australian:
20 Mar 2007
A SENIOR Muslim cleric working for the tax office in Canberra is being investigated over accusations he failed to pay income tax on thousands of dollars he allegedly received from the Saudi embassy.
An ACT Islamic organisation has also accused the Palestinian-born imam Mohammad Swaiti of being "radical", anti-Western in his religious teachings, and failing to declare payments he received from officiating at wedding ceremonies.
Documents obtained by The Australian reveal an Australian Tax Office investigation into Sheik Swaiti over allegations by senior Muslim community leaders that he failed to declare his clerical allowances of up to $US30,000 ($37,700) a year, which were paid to him by the Saudi Government.
The tax office sent Islamic Society of ACT president Sabrija Poskovic a letter in reply to written allegations made by him and his community regarding Sheik Swaiti.
"I refer to your letter relating to the imam of your mosque, Mohammad Swaiti, who also happens to be a tax office employee," the ATO`s letter to Mr Poskovic says.
"I have passed your concerns to the relevant area of the tax office and I expect to be able to respond to you by 6 February 2007."
Documents provided to the tax office, which accuse Sheik Swaiti of being "very fanatic and radical person in his Islamic views", follow factional divisions within Canberra`s Muslim community over issues including Canberra`s only mosque.
The claims come after The Australian last week revealed that hardline Islamic clerics were encouraging their followers not to pay income tax because they considered it contrary to sharia law.
Sheik Swaiti refused to answer The Australian`s questions regarding the ATO investigation and accusations levelled at him by sections of his community, saying God would deal with them.
"God is watching but let them do what they want," he said in Arabic. "Even if they accuse me of murder, I will not comment. You should not take any rubbish from anyone."
Mr Poskovic - whose organisation runs Canberra`s Abu Bakr Mosque at which Sheik Swaiti is employed part-time - said the tax office refused to give him any details of the investigation, saying it was restricted by privacy issues.
"I ring them and they said to me we put (the investigation) in a proper hand and channel but we can`t give any information on what we`re doing," he said.
A tax office spokeswoman would not comment on the matter.
Mr Poskovic accused the Saudi Embassy of bankrolling the annual salaries of up to 20 imams around Australia, including Sheik Swaiti, through its Islamic donations (Daawa) office.
A letter understood to be sent on behalf of Mr Poskovic claims the Saudis pay the imams "mukafa", which is regarded a "reward compensation payment". It also alleges that Sheik Swaiti had been on the Saudi payroll for 12 years.
The Australian could not contact the Saudi embassy, which has previously declined to provide details on whether Islamic religious organisations receive funding from the Saudi Government. On January 9, the embassy expressed shock over Foreign Minister Alexander Downer`s concerns about the funding of Adelaide`s mosque.
Mr Poskovic said the Saudi Embassy was dividing the community by paying some imams to propagate the hardline Wahabbi ideology, a claim he has put to the Department of Foreign Affairs. In a letter to DFAT dated March 6, Mr Poskovic warns that community tensions "will escalate to physical violence in the near future" if the Saudi embassy does not stop its "interference" in community affairs.
Mr Poskovic said while his organisation ran Canberra`s only mosque, it was powerless to have Sheik Swaiti thrown out because of his strong community support.