March 4, 2019 7:00 am
Updated: March 5, 2019 10:25 am

Toronto foundation stripped of charity status after audit finds alleged links to Kurdish guerrillas

The office of the Anatolia Cultural Foundation is located in this Toronto building.

Stewart Bell

The Canada Revenue Agency has revoked the charity status of a Toronto relief group active in Syria, saying its resources may have been used to support Kurdish fighters.

The Anatolia Cultural Foundation, which funds medical and humanitarian aid for Syrian civilians, is the latest charity CRA auditors have tied to overseas terrorist groups.

In documents obtained by Global News, the CRA alleged the charity was focused on “advancing and promoting a political ideology associated with the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).”

“The PKK is an organization listed as a terrorist entity in Canada,” the CRA wrote. “As such, concerns exist that the organization’s resources may have been used to support the political efforts of the PKK and/or its armed militia groups.”

PKK fighters enter northern Iraq, May 14, 2013. (AP Photo/Ceerwan Aziz, File)

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The CRA documents, released Monday, alleged the charity had directed $160,000 — 40% of its revenue — to “groups or individuals associated with, or supportive of, the PKK.”

Two of the charity’s key figures “appear to be openly supportive of the PKK itself and/or groups associated with the PKK,” the CRA said.

The charity also funded intermediaries who “appeared to be associated with, supportive of, or belonged to, an organization which was politically aligned with the PKK.”

In addition, it funded the Rojava Media Project, “whose stated goal was to document the revolution in Rojava [the Kurdish name for northeast Syria], and whose documentary prominently featured scenes about the PKK and associated groups.”

Office of the Toronto-based Anatolia Cultural Foundation.

Stewart Bell

The Anatolia Cultural Foundation’s president, Ilhan Ulutas, denied the allegations and said the decision would be appealed. The Toronto-based group had been a government-registered charity since 2011.

The CRA audit covered the years 2011 to 2014. The group was notified in a Jan. 2, 2019 letter that its charity status was being revoked. The decision was announced in the government’s Canada Gazette on Feb. 23.

The key projects listed on the Anatolia Foundation’s website are all in the region of Syria controlled by Kurdish fighters and include construction of a hospital in Kobane, which was retaken from ISIS in 2015.

Another project involved humanitarian aid in Syria’s Afrin region. According to the CRA website, the charity claimed only $572,000 in revenues during the six years it filed financial reports.

READ MORE: CRA suspends, fines major Islamic charity over concerns it may have ‘provided resources’ to armed militants

Conservative MP Peter Kent confirmed he had spoken at an event hosted by the Anatolia charity in 2017. He said that, in his speech, he thanked the Iraqi-Kurdish Peshmerga militia for its fight against ISIS.

“This event was really a fundraiser for the Yazidi survivors from the Sinjar region that were in the Kurdish autonomous region,” the Thornhill MP said in an interview.

WATCH: ISIS fighters remain holed up in the group’s last enclave in Syria, a military source said

But the CRA summary said its audit had found the Anatolia foundation “did not devote all its resources to charitable purposes and activities” and “failed to demonstrate direction and control” over its resources.

It did not keep proper books and records or issue donation receipts properly, failed to file financial returns as required and “was gifting resources to a non-qualified donee,” the CRA said.

“For all of these reasons, and for each reason alone, it is the position of the CRA that the organization no longer meets the requirements necessary for charitable registration,” it wrote.

READ MORE: Toronto charity disputes CRA accusation it was formed to spread ‘Iranian revolutionary ideology in Canada’

The CRA added that its analysis of information obtained during the audit, as well as from open sources, led it to believe the Anatolia Foundation, “through its various funding and gifting arrangements, may have knowingly or unknowingly extended the benefits of its status as a registered charity to fund the activities” of groups linked to the PKK.

Supporters of Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) carry flags bearing the image of (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan during a protest in Beirut, Feb. 15, 2019. EPA/WAEL HAMZEH

Founded by the imprisoned Abdullah Ocalan, the PKK is supported by many Kurds who sympathize with its separatist conflict against Turkey. But Turkey views the PKK and its Syrian counterpart, the YPG, as terrorist groups.

According to the Public Safety Canada website, the PKK’s activities include attacking “Turkish military, diplomats and Turkish businesses at home and in some western European cities.”

“It has also been known to bomb resorts and kidnap tourists in an attempt to destabilize tourism in Turkey. On April 11, 2017, the PKK bombed a police compound in Diyarbakir, Turkey, resulting in the death of three people, including one police officer.”

The charity announcement comes as the RCMP is hoping to convince Turkish authorities to allow Canadian ISIS members captured in Kurdish-controlled northeast Syria to transit through Turkey so they can be prosecuted in Canada.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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