Bahrain gets “tough”

March 25, 2010

If by “tough” you mean no arrest, no indictment, and no freezing of assets for a Bahraini government minister who’s been laundering money to the Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.  From Al Arabiya  via Rantburg on Tuesday:

Bahrain on Monday sacked a state minister after he was accused of links to a domestic and international money laundering network suspected of working for Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard.

The Gulf state’s ruler, Sheikh Hamad bin Isa al Khalifa, issued a decree relieving Minister of State Mansoor bin Rajab of his official duties as of Tuesday.

It is the first time since Bahrain gained independence from Britain in 1971 that such a high-ranking minister has lost his post and faced prosecution for alleged criminal and corruption charges.

Bin Rajab, 55, was briefly detained by authorities for questioning last week. His home and offices were also searched.

The decision came at a time when judicial investigations in both Bahrain and Kuwait were underway to uncover details of a money laundering network suspected of working for Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.

The United States in late 2007 designated the guard as a foreign terrorist organization, cutting off Iranian companies and individuals from the U.S. financial system. The Iranian military forces since then have been suspected of laundering money from “opium” sales to cover its covert operations in the Middle East.

Bin Rajab earlier said he was summoned by the interior ministry for questioning, the Gulf Daily News newspaper reported.

“The Criminal Investigation Directorate summoned me to answer questions about myself and some employees in my ministry,” Bin Rajab was quoted as saying, adding he had not been arrested.

“An official has been detained on charges of committing money laundering transactions domestically and abroad,” according to a statement which said the official was arrested late last week and his file transferred to prosecutors.

“The ministry (of interior) noticed the events in early 2009, and therefore monitored the official’s activities, meetings and communications closely and secretly,” it added, without saying how much money was involved.

The police statement did not name the official but local media identified him as Mansour bin Rajab, a state minister without portfolio who was released for health reasons after questioning.

Bahrain, which hosts the headquarters of anti-money laundering watchdog MENA FATF, issued an anti-money laundering law in 2001 but until now there had been no such high-profile investigations or arrests among senior officials.

For those keeping track at home, this is strike two for Bahrain in 2010.

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