Australian financial authorities have foiled an ongoing attempt to keep millions of dollars in transactions off the books by a remittance company owned by a terrorist’s sister and her husband. The case illustrates the possibilities for financial system abuse by small, non-bank financial companies based in the West with significant business operations in high-risk countries like Lebanon. The case also provides justification for probing the money trails and the sympathies of the families of convicted terrorists.
Sharrouf family firm shut over terror funding fears
A Lakemba money transfer business owned by the sister and brother-in-law of convicted Sydney terrorist Khaled Sharrouf has been suspended amid concerns it was sending millions of dollars to the Middle East to finance terrorism.
Damour Sharrouf and her husband Ahmed Alwash have had their Lakemba firm Bisotel Rieh Pty Ltd suspended after the financial intelligence agency AUSTRAC became concerned about millions of dollars sent to Turkey and Lebanon that the firm has failed to account for. It is the first such suspension over suspected terrorism financing.
Ms Sharrouf, 37, is the older sister of Khaled Sharrouf, the 31-year-old who is wanted for terrorism offences and who escaped to the Middle East on his brother’s passport.
Local business owners told Fairfax Media they had seen Khaled Sharrouf inside the Lakemba business, which also operates a travel firm, before he went overseas.
“Yes, I’ve met him before,” barber Mohamad Machlouche, who owns the business next door to the money transfer firm, said. “He seemed different before [he went overseas]. He seemed normal, looking for work, was a normal person.
“No one on earth was expecting anything like this.”
According to the money transfer firm’s website, it has an office in the northern Lebanon city of Tripoli, seen as an epicentre for Sunni extremism in the country and a gateway to funding militant groups in neighbouring Syria – raising the possibility that money could even have gone to the brutal Islamic State group.
AUSTRAC’s acting head John Schmidt told Fairfax Media the agency’s concerns were based on the fact that Bisotel Rieh was failing to report all of the money it sent overseas and often refused to reveal who was ultimately receiving the funds. Also, it was sending money to “high terrorism financing risk jurisdictions”.
“We’ve had some concerns about the quality of their reporting. For example, for the period from January to August this year, they reported international funds transfers of $12.3 million. We believe from other sources that it was in fact closer to $21.3 million,” Mr Schmidt said.
“So in that eight-month period, there’s already a $9 million discrepancy. That causes concerns.”…