International group holding emergency meeting to seek ways to block terrorists' money

Monday, October 29th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill told delegates from a 29-nation anti-money-laundering group Monday that they must work to disrupt the finances of terrorists and their organizations.

``You have made impressive progress countering the threats posed by money laundering,'' O'Neill said in remarks to an emergency meeting of the financial task force, which previously put Russia, Israel and Indonesia on a blacklist of countries deemed uncooperative in fighting money laundering.

Now, O'Neill said, ``Our goal must be nothing less than the disruption and elimination of the financial frameworks that support terrorism and its abhorrent acts. ... Money knows no boundaries, and no nation can combat terrorist financing alone. We must all cooperate.''

In the latest international move in the fight against terrorism, hundreds of delegates to the task force, which includes the United States, Britain, Japan and other industrial powers, were meeting behind closed doors in Washington Monday and Tuesday. The task force is part of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Jimmy Gurule, treasury undersecretary for enforcement, is among the U.S. representatives.

The purpose of the emergency session, the first in the task force's 12-year history, is to consider immediate actions to help track and block terrorists' funds.

Among proposals on the agenda is one requiring governments to compel banks in their countries to report to authorities transactions suspected of being made by terrorists or their organizations, as is the case in the United States.

Since the attacks of Sept. 11, the financial battle led by the United States has been a major part of the campaign against Islamic militant Osama bin Laden, the prime suspect, and his complex al-Qaida network.

Galvanized by the terrorist threat, international bodies have moved more swiftly than usual. The U.N. Security Council, for example, quickly and unanimously adopted last month a U.S.-sponsored resolution requiring all 189 U.N.-member nations to deny money, support and sanctuary to terrorists.

Soon after, finance ministers and central bank presidents of the seven major industrial powers _ the United States, Japan, Germany, Britain, France, Italy and Canada _ pledged to intensify their efforts to choke off money flowing to terrorist organizations.

President Bush has ordered the freezing of U.S. assets of 66 individuals and organizations suspected of conducting or financing terror. They include senior aides to bin Laden, a militant group called Army of Mohammed and bakeries and honey shops in Yemen accused of fronting for bin Laden's network.

Since the attacks, 81 countries have joined the effort by issuing blocking orders against assets of the designated people and groups, according to Treasury officials.

A sweeping anti-terrorism bill that Bush signed last week gives the treasury secretary authority to require special record-keeping and reporting rules for American banks, and makes it a crime to smuggle more than $10,000 over U.S. borders.

Congress has yet to ratify, however, the International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism, which was adopted by the U.N. General Assembly in 1999. The treaty, which is on the agenda for the task force meeting, commits governments to prosecute or extradite people accused of funding terrorist activities, and requires banks to take steps to identify suspicious transactions.

Bush submitted the treaty last week to the Senate, which may vote on it soon. So far only four countries _ Britain, Botswana, Sri Lanka and Uzbekistan _ have ratified the treaty, which needs 22 ratifications to enter into force.

In June 2000, the Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering, its formal name, created the blacklist of countries and territories considered uncooperative. There are currently 17 on the list: the Cook Islands, Dominica, Egypt, Guatemala, Hungary, Indonesia, Israel, Lebanon, the Marshall Islands, Myanmar, Nauru, Nigeria, Niue, the Philippines, Russia, St. Kitts and Nevis; and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.