September 26, 2005

Arabs hammer out new steps against terror funding

By Caroline Drees, Security Correspondent

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Arab officials began on Monday to hammer
out tough new steps to fight terrorist financing and money
laundering, including curbs on bulk cash couriers, informal
money transfers and the abuse of charities.

The officials from 14 Arab members of the Middle East and
North Africa Financial Action Task Force (MENA FATF) also
discussed pushing the fight beyond governments to the private
sector, by helping vulnerable entities such as banks detect and
fight dirty money.

"All our member states have suffered from terrorist
attacks, and thus we have a true commitment to fighting money
laundering and terrorism financing," Muhammad Baasiri, the head
of the regional body, told delegates at the start of a two-day
plenary meeting in Beirut.

Western officials have expressed concern that the
10-month-old group had not moved ahead fast enough.

Among the concerns is that only five of the member states
have so far set up fully functioning financial intelligence
units, which collect, analyze and exchange financial
information to help fight money laundering and terrorism.

Since the September 11, 2001 attacks, Western countries
have urged the Arab world, where most of the al Qaeda financing
had been raised, to crack down on dirty money, increase
transparency and oversight of the financial sector, and
regulate charities.

MENA FATF, a spin-off of the Paris-based Financial Action
Task Force on Money Laundering (FATF) founded by the Group of
Seven richest nations in 1989, is a key part of Arab efforts to
meet these international demands.


Kader Asmal, a South African who now heads the original
FATF, called on Arab states to act now or risk undermining
their governments and the integrity of their financial sectors.

"If we don't act on this type of situation, the vicious
cycle repeats itself again and again and a sore is allowed to
continue festering in our societies," he told the conference.

"We cannot allow our territories and institutions to be
abused to facilitate terror attacks by terrorists as we've seen
all too often in recent years."

Delegates will focus on new regulations for informal
"hawala" money transfers, cash couriers and charities.

They will discuss the regulation and licensing of hawalas,
the declaration of cross-border cash transfers above a certain
amount and inspections of cash couriers, adopting similar steps
for precious metals or gems, and imposing stiffer supervision
and licensing requirements for charities.

Several states have already tightened controls over
charitable donations, a controversial subject in Muslim
countries where charity is a religious obligation.

Iraq and Mauritania are also due to be admitted as new
members during the conference.

The current members are Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, Jordan,
Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Yemen, Oman, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain,
the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia -- the birthplace of
Osama bin Laden and the country identified by the United States
as the primary source of al Qaeda's funding.