Archive for the ‘Columns, essays, & pure opinion’ Category

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FinCEN pooh-poohs knowing your customer

December 15, 2014

A federal financial crime agency has issued a statement imploring banks to continue or resume doing business with money services businesses (MSB’s)—many of which are hawala companies—despite the risks of hawala financing domestic and international terrorism. FinCEN’s statement stems in large part from pressure brought to bear by Democratic politicians, Somali activists, and well-meaning but misguided international charities who believe that remittances are an effective channel for humanitarian relief to corruption-plagued hot zones abroad. These parties fail to understand that remittances are fuel to the fire in places like Somalia where remittances are siphoned off by al-Shabaab to perpetuate the cycle of violence and misery in that country.

In the statement, FinCEN even goes out of its way to instruct banks that they do “not need to know the MSB’s individual customers” to remain compliant with know-your-customer provisions of the Bank Secrecy Act. This instruction seems at odds with years of federal regulatory admonitions for banks to know their customers.

Financial crimes analyst Kenneth Rijock does a wonderful job picking apart FinCEN’s pronouncement, posing the following observations about MSBs:

  1. They are frequently used by both money launderers, and terrorist financiers. This is a sad fact of life; laundrymen know that many MSBs are storefront operations, poorly run, and who would consider  accepting dirty money, to earn a handsome profit.
  2. They exist in jurisdictions where regulatory agencies are either non-existent, or unable or unwilling to enforce AML/CFT laws. Therefore, the MSB has no reason to have an effective compliance program.
  3. They may be actually owned, or controlled by, criminal elements; Look at Mexico.
  4. They are not like licensed financial institutions, the licensing requirements are often minimal, and corrupt government agencies, once paid off, are usually eager to qualify individuals who are unacceptable as NBFI operators.
  5. If a client cannot go to a bank in his or her jurisdiction, to send larger amounts of funds, it is often because their dodgy business is not wanted at legitimate financial institutions.
  6. MSBs in many countries are known for dysfunctional AML programs. Can we really expect US banks, who are held to best practices standards, to risk accepting money from them ?

Read Rijock’s full analysis here.

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Islamic charity’s terrorism denial falls short

December 12, 2014

In response to the UAE’s designation of Islamic Relief Worldwide (IRW) as a terrorist entity, IRW has denied any link to terrorism.  Unfortunately, the global Islamic charity’s denial doesn’t go nearly far enough to clear the air.  The real follow-up questions to IRW should include:  what policies does the charity have in place, for example, with their Gaza and West Bank programs to vet partner charities on the ground and to conduct background screening on volunteers? What actual steps does IRW take to ensure that joint activities with terrorist groups such as Hamas does not happen, cannot happen, or to minimize the likelihood of it happening?

Any British-based company understands the risks of doing business internationally. They conduct due diligence on prospective clients, business partners, and customers to make sure that they are not violating international sanctions and that their partners doe not expose them to any undue risk for laundering money. But several Islamic charities in Britain have failed to take the same standards to heart. Again, what sort of due diligence is IRW carrying out on their charitable partners, employees, and volunteers?  What type of background screening do they do? What terms are in the contracts of the businesses and partner charities that they work with?

It’s not enough to merely assert that nothing untoward is occuring.  Even basic public relations skills would tell you that some type explanation of the standards IRW has in place would boost donor and regulator confidence.  So far IRW’s explanations have also failed to impress Israel either, which banned IRW from operating in the Palestinian territories earlier this year over concerns that the charity works with Hamas.

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10 tips for businesses to avoid financing terror

November 24, 2014

If you run or work for a medium or small business that can’t afford to have an entire compliance department, or even a compliance officer, here are a few tips that will help your business reduce its risk of inadvertently funding a terrorist organization, running afoul of federal authorities, or both:

  1. Conduct due diligence before taking on new accounts, and do not rely exclusively on Internet searches for due diligence.
  2. For international accounts it is doubly important to carry out thorough due diligence (including overseas business partners, banks, security providers, and charities) before signing agreements with them. You will probably have to contract out for investigation services, but it’s worth the expense.
  3. If your business promotes or authorizes employee payroll deductions to make charitable contributions, review the list of participating charities. Do not offer payroll deductions for donations to charities suspected of financing terrorism or charities known to have worked with designated terrorists. This would include Islamic Relief USA and the Zakat Foundation (see here and here).
  4. If your business requires or offers diversity or equal opportunity training, do not make payments to any organization or person to conduct the training who has been implicated in terrorist financing schemes such as members of the Council on American-Islamic Relations or the Islamic Society of North America, both of which were unindicted co-conspirators in the Holy Land Foundation Hamas-financing case.
  5. Think twice before offering sharia-compliant investment accounts to employees or allowing a conventional retirement brokers to offer sharia funds to your employees. These financial products are less transparent with respect to fund management by sharia advisory boards whose members often share close ties with the international Muslim Brotherhood and are not subject to disclosure requirements on where they channel their profits.
  6. Do not buy corporate fruit baskets or other gift baskets from Edible Arrangements. Their CEO operates a foundation out of his office at Edible Arrangements allegedly linked to Pakistani front charities that fund Islamist militants.
  7. Do not have business lunches, meetings, or conferences catered by halal food providers such as IFANCA and Crescent Foods, which have been endorsed by or have catered events for entities that are suspected to have financed terrorism.
  8. If you are asked by an importer whether your business can ship to or “enter an Arab Port?” do not answer the question. That is code language used to ascertain your business’s willingness to participate in the Arab League’s boycott against Israel. Answering the question helps those who oppose the existence of Israel and will lead to fines by the U.S. Office of Antiboycott Compliance.
  9. Don’t let your data or your employees be held for ransom. Ask your IT department or technology provider about their security protocols against ransomware. Make adequate plans to protect your employees from abduction during overseas travel. Paying ransoms will serve to enrich criminal or terrorist groups which will be costlier and less secure for your industry in the long run.
  10. Bookmark and read blogs such as Money Jihad, Kenneth Rijock’s Financial Crime Blog, and Shariah Finance Watch for the latest threat trends in terror finance risk management. These websites are free unlike some of the other specialized news sites which are informative but fee-based.
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Chiquita partly off hook in terror finance case

November 4, 2014

A lawsuit by 4,000 Colombians against corporate fruit giant Chiquita for making $1.7 million in extortion payments to militants in Colombia from 1997 to 2004 was dismissed by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta this July. The appeals court found that the activity wasn’t subject to U.S. jurisdiction since it all took place in Colombia. Chiquita has already paid a $25 million fine in connection with the case in 2007.

Plaintiffs might have better luck if they pursued damages on the basis of the U.S. Anti-Terrorism Act, which was recently used successfully to prosecute Arab Bank for handling Hamas bank accounts, rather than relying on the Alien Tort Statute. Presumably, Chiquita could still be held liable under other statutes because extortion payments may have been directed by their offices in the U.S. That being said, Arab Bank intended to support Hamas while Chiquita’s underlying intent was to protect its employees from attacks by paramilitary insurgents.

While the original amount of $1.7 million in extortion payments is less than the $4 million that Arab Bank transferred to Hamas leaders from 2000 to 2001, or the $12.4 million that the Holy Land Foundation gave to Hamas from the mid- to late-1990s, it’s still a lot of money. Even though at least one prominent Filipino politician has endorsed paying off guerrillas, the Chiquita case serves as another reminder that international corporations shouldn’t pay ransoms or meet the extortion demands of local rebel groups or terrorists.

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Treasury hopes ISIS will go broke on its own

October 28, 2014

In remarks last week (hat tip to @HSPI), Treasury official David Cohen confirmed that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria makes $1 million a day from oil sales, that it has made $20 million this year in ransoms, and that it makes millions a month from extortion. Cohen laid out plans to counter each facet of ISIS’s funding.

Cohen also acknowledged that some of Treasury’s tools aren’t well suited to the task of bankrupting ISIS, but noted with some optimism that “Attempting to govern the cities, towns and sprawling territory in Iraq and Syria where it currently operates, much less delivering some modicum of services to the millions of people it seeks to subjugate, is expensive,” and that ISIS would ultimately be unable “to meet the cost of governing.”

To support his argument, Cohen cited a journalist with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace who reckons that, although ISIS is well funded, the budgetary demands of controlling such a large territory exceed even their financial resources. ISIS’s revenues may be $1.5 billion annually, but prior Iraqi budgets for the provinces under ISIS’s control exceeded $2.5 billion per year.

ISIS’s potential budget deficits become even starker when one considers that most of its money isn’t spent on public services. Die Welt has reported (hat tip to Puneet) that just one-third of ISIS’s money is spent on providing basic utilities and social services to the population within its territory, while one-third go to salaries for fighters and employees, and one-third is spent on weapons.

So there is hope that ISIS could be taken down a peg financially, but it won’t be through sanctions and monitoring suspicious financial activity: it could come through diplomacy, military action, and by the harsh realities of governance.

(Thanks to Terrorism Watch, El Grillo, and Red Team Red Queen for sending in news coverage of Cohen’s remarks.)

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Socialists urge West to arm the PKK

October 27, 2014

Leading Marxist voices are calling on the EU and U.S. to ship weapons to the terrorist-designated Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

Morning Star, the flagship newspaper of British communists, has editorialized that “Nato member states, including the US, have to rethink previous self-defeating positions, drop their sanctions against the anti-Isis alliance and send arms to those in the front line of this epic struggle,” referring to the PKK and their Syrian Kurd counterparts known as the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).

The leading American socialist newspaper The Militant also bemoaned in a recent front page headline that the PKK and YPG are “low on arms.” The self-described anarchist think tank Center for a Stateless Society says that “Supporting the PKK would arguably be far more effective” than current Obama administration policies against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. A petition is also being circulated for submission to the White House for the U.S. to arm the YPG.

Leftist intellectuals are normally highly critical of arms manufacturers and weapons shipments to conflict zones, but are making an exception in this case because they would like to see the formation of a socialist Kurdish state carved out of portions of Syria, Turkey, Iraq, and Iran.

Such aid to the PKK, in addition to threatening existing regional borders, would violate current U.S. and EU sanctions. The PKK is designated as a foreign terrorist organization by the State Department, and is a specially designated global terrorist group which means that the PKK is subject to sanctions enforced by Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC). It is unlikely that these sanctions will be lifted unless it’s part of a grand bargain with Turkish president Recep Erdogan involving peace talks with the PKK and Turkish support for U.S. policies in Iraq and Syria.

For now, even shipments to non-PKK Kurdish forces run the risk of violating sanctions against the PKK. The University of Queensland’s Dr. Tristan Dunning told Australian radio that, “What’s happened in the past is that Peshmerga arms have actually ended up with the PKK. So one of the reasons that I’ve heard that the collapse so quickly at Sinjar is actually because the Peshmerga generals in change of that Yezidi town had actually already sold the heavy weapons to the PKK for personal profit. There’s several Peshmerga generals on trial at the moment for selling the weapons for profit.”

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Al-Bayoumi’s aid to 9/11 hijackers revisited

September 22, 2014

To recap published evidence on whether money from Saudi officials was given to 9/11 hijackers Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar, the 9/11 Commission reported that Omar al-Bayoumi (a Saudi intelligence agent) helped al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar get established upon their arrival in San Diego, to include a one-time transfer of $9,900 that was reportedly refunded immediately. However, Congress’s joint inquiry into 9/11 found that an alternate assessment of bank records by the FBI found no evidence of a refund to al-Bayoumi. Some FBI agents believed that al-Bayoumi continued paying al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar’s rent, but the 9/11 Commission contradicts them. In either case, former U.S. Senator Bob Graham has indicated that al-Bayoumi played a broader role in the facilitation of al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar’s activities in San Diego than official published reports revealed.

Quotations from each source follow:

The 9/11 Commission Report:

We thus do not know when or how Hazmi and Mihdhar first came to San Diego. We do know that on February 4 [2000], they went to the Islamic Center of San Diego to find Omar al Bayoumi and take him up on his offer of help. Bayoumi obliged by not only locating an apartment but also helping them fill out the lease application, co-signing the lease and, when the real estate agent refused to take cash for a deposit, helping them open a bank account (which they did with a $9,900 deposit); he then provided a certified check from his own account for which the al Qaeda operatives reimbursed him on the spot for the deposit.

Congressional Joint Inquiry into Intelligence Community Activities before and after the Terrorist Attacks of September 11, 2001:

However, another FBI document appears to reach a different conclusion: ‘a review of Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi’s bank records indicate [sic] there is no bank documentation that supports the reimbursement of [the rent money], or any monies to Omar al-Bayoumi from al-Hazmi or al-Midhar.’

The 9/11 Commission Monograph on Terrorist Financing:

A number of internal FBI documents state without reservation that Bayoumi paid rent on behalf of Mihdhar and Hazmi, a claim reflecting the initial view of some FBI agents. More thorough investigation, however, has determined that Bayoumi did not pay rent or provide any funding to the hijackers.

Former U.S. Sen. Bob Graham:

In San Diego, there was a man [Omar al-Bayoumi] and a circle of his friends. The man was described by the FBI as being a Saudi agent. His purpose in San Diego was to monitor Saudi students to assure that they weren’t plotting to overthrow the monarchy. But in January of 2000 he got a second assignment which was to provide protection for two Saudis [Nawaf al-Hazmi and Khalid al-Mihdhar] who had just entered the country. He was encouraged to invite them to come to San Diego—they did. He provided them money, a place to live, flight lessons, and an infrastructure of Muslims in San Diego to give them protection and anonymity. These two individuals were on the plane that flew into the Pentagon.

The official story is that al-Bayoumi could never be prosecuted for providing material support to terrorism since the evidence of giving money to the 9/11 hijackers is unclear, and he allegedly had no knowledge of what they would use the money for. However, the material support clause of 18 US Code § 2339 includes more types of support than just money, and paying somebody’s first month rent and security deposit, in a scenario where a landlord would otherwise not have offered a lease, could qualify as support, regardless of whether or not he was refunded. Whether al-Bayoumi knew what the San Diego-based hijackers were planning is a different question, but he was not thoroughly questioned by law enforcement.

As Money Jihad has noted, al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar seemed to have received disproportionately less financial assistance from Khalid Sheikh Muhammad and his financial intermediary Ali Abdul Aziz Ali than other 9/11 hijackers, even though they lived in the U.S. for a longer period of time and presumably had higher total living expenses. A full accounting of their potential alternate sources of income has never been made available.

In light of the somewhat conflicting accounts of the scope of al-Bayoumi’s interactions with al-Hazmi and al-Mihdhar, it would be appropriate to declassify the 28-page section of Congress’s joint inquiry into 9/11 that dealt with this subject to clear the air.

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