Muslim Groups Protest Account Closure

Muslim Groups Protest Account Closure

Non-profits call for explanations for refusal of service

Decrying the closing of its bank accounts in November of last year with no official explanation, the Herndon-based non-profit organization Foundation for Appropriate and Immediate Temporary Help (FAITH) has joined with other area Muslim non-profits to call for a national boycott Wachovia Corp. financial services unless the bank provides an explanation for closing the accounts.

"We want to prove to [Wachovia] that what they did here is outright, blatantly wrong," said Mukit Hossain, a member of the board of directors of FAITH. "American citizens should not be treated like this — it's time for us to make a stand."

After achieving the support of Falls Church-based Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation and the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Washington, D.C., members of FAITH called a press conference in Washington on Monday. FAITH and the other non-profits demanded an explanation of the closing of the three FAITH accounts from the bank within two weeks or they would urge Muslims nationwide to close their Wachovia accounts, Hossain said.

While acknowledging that FAITH has called for possible boycotts of their services, Wachovia spokesperson Carrie Ruddy refused to comment on specific cases due to Wachovia's privacy and ethical regulations.

"Wachovia is committed to operating its business with full and ethical standards and under the full compliance of applicable laws and regulations," Ruddy said in a phone interview. "We never make any account decisions based on race, religion, national origin or other discriminatory factors."

FAITH IS a Herndon-based non-profit organization with a mission "to provide humanitarian aid to needy individuals and families living Northern Virginia," according to its Web site.

Established in 1999, the organization uses money donated from predominantly Muslim individuals and businesses to provide counseling services and assistance for women and children who have been the victims of domestic violence, as well as food distribution for the needy, regardless of religious or ethnic background.

FAITH provided "a little less" than $200,000 in services and contributions as listed in the organization's 2004 annual financial statement, the most recent report released by the group, said FAITH treasurer and board member Margaret Farchtchi.

Wachovia sent FAITH a letter in November of 2005 telling them that the bank would be closing the organization's account, but without giving a specific reason, according to Farchtchi.

"It was strictly out of the blue, we had absolutely no notice," Farchtchi said. "We have always had a healthy relationship with Wachovia — we've never had any types of balance or accounting problems, the things you would expect might lead to this."

"I called them and asked to speak to their corporate lawyers and I asked them why," Hossain said. "They told me that they did not need to share with me the information why the account was closed."

Wachovia responded to a letter that FAITH drafted demanding an explanation for the closing of the account by saying that the company had "merely exercised its right to stop services to a client," Hossain said.

"When this first happened we had a board meeting at FAITH and we really debated whether or not to make any issue out of this at all because we didn't want our donors thinking that something was wrong," Farchtchi said. "But the more we talked about it, the more we realized something wasn't wrong — we couldn't see any real reason why they would have done this."

"It really appears that this is discriminatory, and it's bad not for just us, but for other interfaith organizations throughout the country," Farchtchi said. "Many people like the ACLU [American Civil Liberties Union] are interested in the outcome."

ALTHOUGH NOT POSITIVE, Hussein said that the account may have been closed because of a $150,000 donation made in 2005 by the Sterling Charitable Gift Fund Trust managed by Herndon resident M. Yaqub Mirza. Mirza was targeted in a 2002 raid by federal agents but never charged of any crimes, Hossain said.

While the gift of $150,000 is considered large to a company that does about $200,000 of charity distribution every year, Hossain said that FAITH has received large donations before and they were never a problem with the bank.

Farchtchi said that the Sterling Charitable Gift Fund Trust donation as the reason for the closing is "just a wild guess."

"We have no clue what it could be," Farchtchi said. "The bank has given us absolutely no indication that this or anything else is the case."

"If it was something like that they were concerned about, why didn't they just come to us?" she said.

"I don't see why Wachovia would close down this account and not give us an explanation," Hossain said. "It used to be that you're innocent until proven guilty, and now with Muslims you're guilty until proven innocent, and if you're in Herndon you're guilty no matter what."