Hamas' secret foreign investment portfolio reportedly worth $500m

German newspaper claims it received details of militant group's finances from 2018 retrieved from a laptop

Fighters with the Saraya al-Quds Brigades, the armed wing of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement, parade with their weapons in the streets of Gaza City during a rally, on May 29, 2021, more than a week after a ceasefire brought an end to 11 days of hostilities between Israel and Hamas. Mahmud Hams / AFP
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Hamas has a secret overseas investment portfolio worth more than $500 million, documents seen by a German newspaper have suggested.

The investments include interests in about 40 international companies controlled by Hamas in the Middle East and North Africa, Die Welt reported.

The newspaper said it saw documents from 2017-18 that were part of a decade’s worth of financial files discovered on a Hamas computer. It did not say how the data was retrieved or who provided the information.

Die Welt said the group itself valued the portfolio at $338m. It would now be worth more than $500m. The companies were said to be mainly in the construction sector and found in Turkey with other interests in Sudan and Algeria. Reporters said the business interests were built up over about 20 years.

Dr Matthew Levitt, of the Washington Institute, who formerly worked in financial intelligence for the US government, said the figures were "impossible to verify" but he told the newspaper it was no secret that Hamas invested in foreign companies in the region.

The details stand in contrast to the economic woes in Gaza where the Hamas-run administration – which is subject to tough economic sanctions from Israel and its allies – is battling electricity, water and medicine shortages. Hamas is designated a terrorist group by the US, EU, UK and Israel.

It lost an appeal last September against its inclusion on the EU terrorism list, which leads to sanctions and frozen assets. The militant group said the EU had made a “mistaken characterisation” and claimed the listing was “not substantiated by any evidence”.

Details of the latest Hamas finances came to light after the worst fighting in years between Israel and Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip.

Israel killed several senior Hamas commanders in air strikes during 11 days of fighting in May. More than 250 people died in Gaza and 13 in Israel before an Egypt-led ceasefire.

Hamas, which is committed to the destruction of Israel, was founded in the 1980s by followers of the Muslim Brotherhood. It has close links to Turkey and Qatar. Its leader was one of the guests at the recent inauguration of the new Iranian president.

State-backed funding for the organisation has declined forcing the group to seek other forms of financing. Its main state sponsor is believed to be Iran despite historical blips in their relationship.

Efforts to attract commercial income are regarded as part of attempts to secure another revenue stream, experts say. The report identified the Turkish construction conglomerate Trend GYO as one its prime investments.

That company is leading developer in Turkey and has completed a number of high-profile projects around the country, including universities and commercial plazas.

“Follow the money,” said Jonathan Schanzer, a former terrorism finance analyst at the US Treasury, on Twitter. “Now let’s see if the host governments take action.”

He told Die Welt: “Companies that generate steady income would be extremely helpful to a terrorist group as long as they were able to operate in the open and not be identified as illegitimate."

The US in 2019 imposed sanctions on four men they said were responsible for moving tens of millions of dollars between Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Hamas’s operational arm in Gaza. It said a banker in Lebanon was at the heart of the scheme and in charge of all financial transfers between the groups.

Hamas business activities have shifted to Turkey in recent years, Die Welt said. Its income has been squeezed by a purge of front organisations that pose as charitable groups to collect millions from donors to support the Palestinian cause.

The group retains an iron grip on the Gaza strip where income has been squeezed by the cycle of conflict. Reports from there said the group's operatives had prevented UN officials from accessing a school funded by the UN Relief and Works Agency, where it is alleged a tunnel used by it for firing rockets at Israel was located.

Hamas did not respond to a request for comment.

Updated: August 12, 2021, 4:29 AM