Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, May-June 2010, Page 18

Special Report

Money Trail in Dubai Assassination Leads To Iowa

By Michael Gillespie

A MetaBank branch office in Des Moines, Iowa. (Photo M. Gillespie)

AN ONGOING investigation by the Dubai Police Force into the assassination there of a high-level Hamas official (see April 2010 Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, p. 12) has revealed the contours of Israel's massive and ever-expanding operations in the United States.

The Jan. 19 murder of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in his room at the Al Bustan Rotana, a 275-room five-star luxury hotel, has been widely perceived to be a Mossad operation involving, by the most recent count, 27 suspects traveling on fraudulently obtained and falsified European or Australian passports.

The plot thickened in late February and early March, when major U.S. news media outlet reports connected the crime and many of those involved in it to Israeli and U.S. corporations and revealed that, after leaving Dubai, some of the suspected assassins had entered the United States.

ABC News reported on Feb. 24 that Dubai police had identified 15 new suspects as part of the ring that killed al-Mabhouh, and that "Fourteen of the suspects purportedly used credit cards from MetaBank, a regional American bank, to pay for hotel rooms and travel arrangements...Dubai police linked MetaBank to a New York-based company called Payoneer, which provided prepaid MasterCard credit cards issued by MetaBank. According to its Web site, Payoneer has a research and development center in Tel Aviv."

This reporter contacted MetaBank's corporate headquarters in Storm Lake, Iowa to inquire why an Iowa bank would provide credit cards to 14 suspected members of a death squad. Lisa Binder, vice president for Investor Relations and Corporate Communications, responded via telephone and e-mail with a statement saying, in part, "The Meta cards in question were issued in conjunction with a Meta Payment Systems program, not at a retail bank location. Meta Payment Systems, which has issued more than 150 million prepaid cards, markets its payroll cards through various Program Managers—in this case, Payoneer—to offer reputable U.S. companies network branded payroll cards with which American companies can pay expatriates, employees and contractors of their company who live in the U.S. and in foreign countries. The cards in question were 'loaded' by the companies using direct deposit for payroll, disbursements, and other compensation."

Attempts to contact Payoneer offices at 410 Park Avenue in New York City revealed that the only phone answered at Payoneer headquarters was a customer support line for Payoneer's Birthright Israel customers.

According to Birthright Israel's Web site, <www.birthrightisrael.com>, the program sends "thousands of young Jewish adults from all over the world to Israel as a gift in order to diminish the growing division between Israel and Jewish communities around the world; to strengthen the sense of solidarity among world Jewry; and to strengthen participants' personal Jewish identity and connection to the Jewish people."

The Web site states that all Birthright Israel participants must pay their $250 refundable "security deposit" through Payoneer.

Payoneer's Birthright customer support center declined to provide contact information for Payoneer corporate communications personnel or for Payoneer founder and CEO Yuval Tal.

"Since the [Dubai[ assassination," noted Abbas Al Lawati, a staff reporter for Gulf News.com, on March 3, "Tal has been shielded by a wall of public relations representatives and does not respond to media requests for comments...Tal's public relations representatives in New York have refused to comment on his past and relations with Israel's intelligence agency Mossad."

Payoneer's Web site describes the company as "a registered MasterCard Merchant Service Provider (MSP), and partner with MetaBank or Choice Bank Limited to deliver our services. Privately held, our funding partners include Greylock Partners, Carmel Ventures, and Crossbar Capital."

All three of Payoneer's funding partners are venture capital firms that have offices in or strong connections to Israel, the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, has learned.

Charlie Federman, managing partner of Crossbar Capital, previously co-founded BRM Capital in 1999, headed its New York office, and served as a managing director of the Israel- and New York-based fund until 2007. BRM Group, headquartered in Herzliya, was founded by Nir Barkat, mayor of occupied Jerusalem. Carmel Ventures also is headquartered Herzliya.

Greylock Partners, founded in 1965, "operates in a number of global centers of innovation, including Boston, China (Beijing), India (Bangalore), Israel (Herzliya) and Silicon Valley." Current Greylock portfolio companies include Digg, Facebook, and LinkedIn, according to Greylock's Web site.

Greylock's investment activities in Israel were launched in 2002 by partner Moshe Mor, who "served six years in the Israeli army as a Captain in the Military Intelligence branch," according to the Web site.

Despite the reported entry into the U.S. of at least two of the Dubai suspects using fraudulent, falsified passports, thus far there has been little to indicate that U.S. officials are seriously interested in investigating the funding of travel expenses and hotel accommodations of suspected Israeli assassins through U.S. corporations. The Departments of State, Justice and Homeland Security failed to respond to inquiries from this reporter.

Michael Gillespie lives and works in Iowa, where he writes regularly about peace and social justice activism.