Last week, an internal memo of Bank Alfalah, which directed its branches not to accept any donation funds to the accounts of the Palestinian embassy in Pakistan, got leaked. People erupted in anger, accusing the bank of refusing to collect donations for Palestinians.
Profit explains why this is not the case, and what are the relevant regulations in Pakistan.
As the Israeli bombing of the Gaza strip in Palestine continues into its second month, anger and frustration are building up around the world over the widespread civilian deaths in the conflict. There have been rallies in countries around the world protesting the violence, including in Pakistan.
As such, emotions are heightened regarding this issue. Therefore, when recently an internal memo of Bank Alfalah, which directed branches not to accept any donation funds to the Palestinian embassy account, got leaked, people erupted in anger.
The internal memo is dated November 3, with the subject ‘Donations – Embassy of the State of Palestine’, and advises all branches to not accept donations to either the USD or PKR bank accounts of the Palestinian Embassy maintained with Bank Alfalah.
Post the leak, there were calls to boycott the bank on social media, and a hashtag to this effect was one of the top trends, generating hundreds of posts in support.
Later, a second memo of the bank was leaked. Only this time it seemed that the bank had leaked the memo itself, probably to try and mitigate the PR disaster the first leak had caused. This internal circular dated November 8, stated that the previous circular was withdrawn and Bank Alfalah would continue to facilitate donations into accounts permissible by law.
This was followed by an official statement issued by the bank on November 9, which said the internal memo had created a ‘misunderstanding’ that banks had been instructed by the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) to stop accepting donations.
“This misleading impression … is absolutely incorrect,” the statement said.
“In Pakistan, operational accounts of embassies are restricted from receiving donations; instead, contributions should be directed to legally permissible donation accounts,” it said.
“Bank Alfalah Limited remains committed to enabling donations from people in Pakistan in accordance with the law to appropriate and authorised accounts that are designated for the purpose of donations,” it added.
What the Palestinian Ministry said
Separately, Palestine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates posted a statement on its verified Facebook page on November 9 stating that its Monetary Authority, on the decision of the Council of Ministers and instructions of the ministry, had circulated four bank account numbers “since the start of the devastating war to our people as well as all our embassies and missions”.
The account numbers of the Monetary Authority and three account numbers of the Palestinian Zakat Fund were also shared.
The statement further said that the ministry had also shared the numbers of the Red Cross, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and the Red Crescent.
“In this context, the ministry confirms that no embassy is allowed, under any circumstances, to open its bank accounts to collect any donations, but instead, it must direct any donations through the central accounts of the Monetary Authority only. It must also direct any in-kind donations of medicines, food and daily relief supplies through the Red Crescent addresses,” it added.
The Palestinian ministry’s statement makes it clear it does not want its embassies and missions to collect any donations in the country in which they are based. But what are the specific rules in this case in Pakistan?
SBP did not issue instructions
SBP spokesperson Noor Ahmed confirmed to Profit that the central bank did not issue any instruction to Bank Alfalah in this particular case to stop accepting donations into the Palestinian embassy’s account. Instead, he explained, that Bank Alfalah likely took the step under Regulation 6 of the Anti-Money Laundering/Counter Terror Financing Regulations, which relates to NGOs/NPOs/charity/trust accounts.
Point 5 of the regulation states, “Personal accounts/customer relationships shall not be allowed to be used for charity purposes/donations.” This is applicable to all accounts maintained at all banks that are not specifically donation accounts. This is what Bank Alfalah also said in its official statement.
When asked whether such an instance had happened previously with the embassy of another state in Pakistan, the SBP spokesperson said it had not.
“This was an internal policy matter and part of the customer due diligence, which created a misunderstanding, and now Bank Alfalah has issued the clarification,” he said, adding that donation accounts could be opened subject to the regulatory requirements. “If the embassy approaches Bank Alfalah, or Bank Alfalah approaches us, we will facilitate them as soon as possible,” he commented.