Heads of Rotterdam Islamic seminary tried for money laundering

Board members of bankrupt Islamic institution accused of laundering more than €1 million and firearms offences

February 9, 2023
Islamic Woman Walking At Amsterdam The Netherlands
Source: iStock

The leaders of a now-defunct Islamic seminary in Rotterdam have gone on trial charged with laundering more than €1.2 million (£1 million) in donations.

The private Islamic University Europe (IUE) began unravelling years ago, when the Inspectorate of Education, a public watchdog, raised concerns about ambiguous board roles and unrealistic budgeting. This was followed by criminal proceedings, with a 62-year-old man from Turkey and a 37-year-old Dutch man going on trial at Rotterdam District Court last month. Neither of the pair, who deny wrongdoing, can be named for legal reasons.

Prosecutors allege that payments to IUE were inflated in donors’ income tax returns, with more than €3 million given between 2009 and 2014 collectively claimed by about 2,000 donors as gifts worth almost €11.5 million, allowing them to pay less tax. Companies are also alleged to have laundered money, making tax-deductible donations of up to €25,000 per year, with up to 95 per cent of the amount then being handed back to them by the university, and the original donation remaining tax-deductible.

Aside from the financial charges, police also found a gas-powered pistol and a stockpile of blank-firing cartridges during a search of the 37-year old man’s house in Vlaardingen, to the west of Rotterdam, the court heard, in a violation of Dutch weapons laws.

Concerns about affairs at IUE stretch back to at least 2017, when its then-rector was arrested on suspicion of a multimillion-euro tax deduction fraud. He and his son-in-law, both IUE board members, were released but prohibited from serving on the university board.

A year later then-minister of education Ingrid van Engelshoven threatened to withdraw IUE’s right to award bachelor’s and master’s degrees over concerns about its management and finances. She was spared the trouble when staff filed for bankruptcy a few months later, with some claiming they had not been paid in a year. The move left 750 students in the lurch, but did not prevent the education ministry levying a fine of €75,000 against the institution for incorrectly using “university” in its title.

Barend van de Meulen, who leads the Centre for Higher Education Policy Studies at the University of Twente, said IUE was in part founded to meet demand for domestic imam training among those distrustful of programmes at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, which was seen by some in the community as close to the Dutch government and its anti-radicalisation initiatives. “For some Muslim organisations such a state- and in a way Christian-led Islamology is not a proper foundation for imam training, so Rotterdam has had several initiatives to create an Islamic university,” he told Times Higher Education.

Paul Zoontjens, a former professor of educational law at Tilburg University said the Netherlands’ Islamic primary and secondary schools had collectively organised financial management courses for their boards after concerns were raised, but that no such training had been provided for Islamic universities. The Netherlands has three public Christian universities, which switched from congregational to state funding in the 1900s after a 50-year political struggle. A state-funded humanist seminary opened in Utrecht in 1989.

The verdict in the IUE case is due to be handed down on 15 March. If the pair are convicted prosecutors are pushing for a prison sentence of 36 months for the 62-year-old and 24 months for the 37-year-old. The former is currently abroad. 


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