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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

US Treasury declares war on iran

A unit within the US Treasury Department, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), which issued a March 20 advisory to the world's financial institutions under the title: "Guidance to Financial Institutions on the Continuing Money Laundering Threat Involving Illicit Iranian Activity."

FinCEN, though part of the chain of command, is better known to bankers and lawyers than to students of US foreign policy. Nevertheless, when the history of this newly declared war is someday written (assuming the war is allowed to proceed) FinCEN's role will be as important as that played by US Central Command (Centcom) in directing the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In its March 20 advisory FinCEN reminds the global banking community that United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSC) 1803 (passed on March 3, 2008) "calls on member states to exercise vigilance over the activities of financial institutions in their territories with all banks domiciled in Iran, and their branches and subsidiaries abroad."

UNSC 1803 specifically mentions two Iranian state-owned banks: Bank Melli and Bank Saderat. These two banks (plus their overseas branches and certain subsidiaries), along with a third state-owned bank, Bank Sepah, were also unilaterally sanctioned by the US in 2007 under anti-proliferation and anti-terrorism presidential executive orders 13382 and 13224.

As of March 20, however, the US, speaking through FinCEN, is now telling all banks around the world "to take into account the risk arising from the deficiencies in Iran's AML/CFT [anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism] regime, as well as all applicable U.S. and international sanctions programs, with regard to any possible transactions" with – and this is important – not just the above three banks but every remaining state-owned, private and special government bank in Iran. In other words, FinCEN charges, all of Iran's banks – including the central bank (also on FinCEN's list) – represent a risk to the international financial system, no exceptions. Confirmation is possible by comparing FinCEN's list of risky Iranian banks with the listing of Iranian banks provided by Iran's central bank.

The "deficiencies in Iran's AML/CFT" is important because it provides the rationale FinCEN will now use to deliver the ultimate death blow to Iran's ability to participate in the international banking system. The language is borrowed from Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF), a group of 32 countries and two territories set up by the G-7 in 1989 to fight money laundering and terrorist financing. As the FinCEN advisory describes, in October 2007 the FATF stated "that Iran's lack of a comprehensive anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) regime represents a significant vulnerability in the international financial system. In response to the FATF statement, Iran passed its first AML law in February 2008. The FATF, however, reiterated its concern about continuing deficiencies in Iran's AML/CFT system in a statement on February 28, 2008."

Actually, the February 28 FATF statement does not comment on Iran's new anti-money laundering law. The statement does say, however, that the FATF has been working with Iran since the October 2007 FATF statement was issued and "welcomes the commitment made by Iran to improve its AML/CFT regime." Moreover, the February 28 statement, for whatever reason, drops the "significant vulnerability" wording, opting instead to reaffirm that financial authorities around the world should "advise" their domestic banks to exercise "enhanced due diligence" concerning Iran's AML/CFT "deficiencies." In linking its March 20 advisory to the recent FATF statements, apparently FinCEN cannot wait for FATF or anyone else to evaluate the effectiveness of Iran's brand new anti-financial crime laws.

Anyway, the "deficiencies in Iran's AML/CFT" is probably the main wording FinCEN will use to justify application of one its most powerful sanctions tools, a USA Patriot Act Section 311 designation (see below).

Hammering away at Iran's state-owned banks is central to US efforts to raise an international hue and cry. Through its state-owned banks, FinCEN states, "the Government of Iran disguises its involvement in proliferation and terrorism activities through an array of deceptive practices specifically designed to evade detection." By managing to get inserted the names of two state-owned banks in the most recent UN Security Council resolution on Iran, the US can now portray the cream of Iran's financial establishment (Bank Melli and Bank Saderat are Iran's two largest banks) as directly integrated into alleged regime involvement in a secret nuclear weaponization program and acts of terrorism.


full article here

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