How legal is the cause you are donating to?

Muscat: Donating and contributing to a cause is part of human nature, but there needs to be cautious about where the money might actually end up, urge authorities.

It is illegal in the Sultanate to collect donations for any cause without prior permission from the competent authorities.

In an exclusive interview with Observer, Senior Public Prosecutor, Salim bin Nasser Khalfan al Busaidy from the Public Prosecution, explained why the law had been introduced and why it is not allowed for anyone to collect money from the public without following the legal procedure.

“In general, all acts are allowed unless restricted by law. The Omani legislation has banned all forms of money collection without obtaining a license from a competent authority. Therefore, collecting money from the public irrespective of the cause is a crime punishable under the law”, he explained.

The Omani legislation addresses this issue in articles (299) and (300) of the Penal Code issued by the Royal Decree (7/2018). Article (299) states: “Whoever calls for donation or collects money from the public, using any means, without a licence from the competent authority, shall be sentenced to imprisonment for a period not less than a month and not exceeding (3) three months, and a fine not less than (200) two hundred Omani rials and not exceeding (600) six hundred Omani rials, or either one of these two punishments.

“The court may adjudicate the confiscation of funds obtained from the crime. If the crime is repeated, the sentence stipulated in the preceding paragraph shall be aggravated provided it does not exceed the double”,  he noted.

Article (300) of the same law states the following: ‘Whoever collects money from the public, using any means, and transfers them abroad, without a license from competent authorities, shall be sentenced to imprisonment for a period not less than (3) three months and not exceeding a year, and a fine not less than (1,000) one thousand Omani rials and not exceeding (2,000) two thousand Omani rials, or either one of these two punishments. The court may adjudicate the confiscation of funds obtained from the crime. If the crime is repeated, the punishment stipulated in the preceding Paragraph shall be aggravated provided it does not exceed the double’.

What many individuals or organisations overlook is the fact is that the Omani legislation has made the condition that a prior permission must be obtained from a competent authority which is Ministry of Social Development, as per the terms, rules, and procedures for issuing a permit for collecting money from the public issued by the Ministerial Decision No 53/2010 in line with Non-Governmental Organisation Law issued by the Royal Decree No 14/2000.

When asked what is the rationale behind illegalising collecting money from the public without a licence, Al Busaidy said, “The process of collecting money from the public poses many risks especially with the spread of incidents in fraud and misappropriation of funds by individuals with ill intent to commit criminal operations like drug and human trafficking, arms dealings, money laundering in addition to funding terrorist attacks that target civilians.

In reality, many people appeared to collect “donation” from the public without obtaining a permit from the concerned authority while claiming that the donation was for humanitarian purposes. However, further investigations revealed that such donations did not reach its advertised humanitarian destinations. Instead, some people took advantage for personal gains and to commit violations that put the community and state interest at risk”.
He pointed out that to ensure that money reach its humanitarian destinations and to provide a legal framework for donation and money collection, the Ministry of Social Development does not issue licenses except for reputable and transparent institutions and organisations.

“Regulating donation and money collection contribute directly in the elimination of all fraudulent operations in which criminals take advantage of the public willingness to help others and persuade them to donate money that is used later on in crimes that impact the community and individuals”, he added.

According to the Senior Public Prosecutor, there have been incidents of collecting money projecting various causes.

“Collecting donation and money from the public without a licence is common. People receive a message on their phones to donate for building mosques, for charity, and for helping people in distress. Some messages indicate that donations would be sent outside the country to help poor people who suffer from starvation or conflict. Many of these invitations for charity do not have permits from the Ministry of Social Development. Therefore, Public Prosecution coordinates with the other concerned authorities to eliminate such phenomena and track those people”, he noted.

So how can one know and ensure they are contributing to the right cause as many people would want to contribute during the holy month of Ramadhan?

“Before I answer the question, I would like to draw out that the Ministry of Social Development only issues permits to organisations registered at the Ministry’s records. Unregistered organisations will not receive permits to collect money from the public.  Besides, permits are not given to individuals but rather to legal entities like registered NGOs and charitable organisations.

Prior to deciding to donate your money, you should look for registered NGOs and charitable organisations that have licenses to collect money from the public or look for the official approval in the advertisement. Also, you should ensure that the ad is legitimate and permitted. You can go to the Ministry’s official website to look for registered charitable organisation or access Oman Charitable Organisation official website to make donation. The latter is responsible for charitable works inside and outside the country. You can donate online with ease and without the need to leave your home”.
To the question, was this law introduced to combat money laundering and how successful has it been since the law was introduced in 2018, Al Busaidy replied, “In fact, money laundering operations are very complex and diverse. They require scrutiny and in-depth inquiry and investigation.  Sometimes, collecting money from the public is misused to commit money laundering to legitimise the proceeds of crimes by making multiple small bank deposits through different individuals under the cover of collecting donation for charitable purposes. Thus, illegalisng collecting money from the public without a licence under the Penal Code has indeed contributed in minimising money laundering crimes by closing one of the methods used by money launderers”.

He pointed out that establishing control on money collection means the permits are given to organisations trusted by the state.

“It also means that individuals without permits cannot claim that money under their possession, which may be the subject of money laundering offence, is money collected from the public for charitable purposes since the act itself is a crime punishable under the law. The court may confiscate all money under the possession of the money collector. This is a huge contribution in the combating money laundering crime”.

So what is the biggest concern?
“The biggest concern is the fear of misusing such funds in criminal acts and for purposes other than what was called for. This includes using such funds in drug trafficking, contraband, or in any other criminal purposes whether inside the country or outside by transferring funds to other countries in order to be used for illegitimate purposes that are detrimental to others. The Sultanate of Oman strives to combat this phenomenon that hides dark elements if misused”.

The Public Prosecution has been spreading awareness regarding collecting money from the public without a licence.
Steps are taken by the Public Prosecution to develop legal culture in public on various subjects. With respect to this topic in hand, Public Prosecution has addressed the subject in many specialised TV and radio programmes for the public to arrive at the correct legal information and avoid falling victims to illegal operations and to identify the appropriate donation channels for charity. Besides, the Public Prosecution posts legal information on various social media platforms.