By ALEXIS GRANT
A New Zealand resident who sent $5000 to his ill uncle in India had the money frozen for nearly a month because his name matched that of several men on a terrorist watch list.
When Mohammad Abbas' uncle desperately needed a kidney transplant, the Mt Roskill resident quickly sent money for the operation through Western Union to India.
But Western Union held it, waiting for confirmation that Mr Abbas was not a terrorist.
"Is my religion, the fact that I'm Muslim, and my name a reason to be discriminated against?" said Mr Abbas, a native South African who became a permanent New Zealand resident early last year.
The 22-year-old TelstraClear employee said it took a few days before Western Union - an American money-transfer company - gave him a vague explanation of why his money was being held.
Meanwhile, his dying uncle, on holiday in India from his home in South Africa, waited in a hospital.
Mr Abbas said Western Union told him his money was being investigated by the company's legal team in the United States, and he would have to wait.
"It was a life-or-death situation," Mr Abbas said. "They did not care."
On Friday, a month after Mr Abbas tried to transfer the money, he got it back with the help of his MP, Foreign Affairs Minister Phil Goff.
Mr Goff contacted Western Union, and also asked the police financial intelligence unit to look into the case.
The head of the unit, Detective Sergeant Ashley Kai Fong, said Mr Abbas' name was matched to that of Mohammad Nasir Abbas, who once led the Islamic extremist group Jemaah Islamiyah.
His name also matched the alias of several other terrorists.
A spokeswoman from Western Union in the US said yesterday that it could take up to a month to clear the name of a customer who was a potential terrorist match.
"A small fraction of transactions fall into this category," Danielle Pereira said.
"For the most part, we are able to quickly make a determination."
It was company policy to tell the customer immediately why the money was being held.
Western Union followed various terrorist watch lists, including that of the US Office of Foreign Assets Control, Ms Pereira said.
She would not disclose which list had matched Mr Abbas' name for privacy reasons.
The name Mohammad Abbas appears twice on the Office of Foreign Assets Control's online list of "specially designated nationals and blocked persons".
And the United Nations website lists two men by the name of Mohammad Abbas as belonging to or being associated with the Taleban in Afghanistan.
Mr Abbas said Western Union did not fully explain to him why his money could not be transferred.
He borrowed money from a friend in India to pay for the transplant.
"This has been an ordeal for me, so the least I want to know is what list my name was on."
He said he did not receive an apology from Western Union.
Mr Goff said it "simply isn't good enough" that Mr Abbas had to wait a month for his money.
"We all understand we have to crack down on terrorist funding, but in a situation like this it was important to work that through very quickly," the minister said.
Mr Abbas said he understood the importance of anti-terrorism methods, but the four-week delay was "absolutely ridiculous".
"I came to New Zealand with a clean slate. If I was a terrorist, they [police] would have picked me up by now. My family in India, they just don't buy the story."
His uncle is struggling to recover from the transplant because it was delayed so long.