Riyadh symposium combats money laundering and terror financing

Saudi Arabia hosted a symposium geared toward combating money laundering. Above, a money exchanger counts money in Riyadh. [Fahad Shadeed/Reuters]

Saudi Arabia hosted a symposium geared toward combating money laundering. Above, a money exchanger counts money in Riyadh. [Fahad Shadeed/Reuters]

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Investigators, prosecutors and judicial experts from across the Middle East and North Africa concluded on Monday (September 10th) a three-day symposium in Riyadh that emphasised the importance of stronger co-operation among countries in combating money laundering.

The symposium, titled "Role and Responsibility of Public Prosecutors and Judicial Bodies in Combating Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing", focused on the need to introduce best practices to banks, strengthen laws and improve bank-prepared confidential reports on fraud and suspicious transactions.

The Bureau of Investigation and Prosecution organized the event in collaboration with the Middle East & North Africa Financial Action Task Force (MENAFATF).

Participants said money laundering activities have steadily increased in recent years, with estimates indicating that the volume of money laundered worldwide is about 5% of the global gross domestic product.

Samba Bank financial crimes advisor, Mohammed al-Obaidi, told Al-Shorfa that Saudi Arabia realised early on the threat posed by economic crimes, particularly money laundering, which put it at the forefront of countries adhering to and enforcing international rules and conventions.

"The kingdom dealt [with the issue] in full force, strengthening and updating rules and regulations pertaining to combating terrorism and related crimes, and modernising and upgrading its security services and all other concerned agencies," he said.

Saudi Arabia also "intensified its qualifying and training programmes for police and security personnel, and opened communication channels between the Interior Ministry and the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency (SAMA) to facilitate co-operation in fighting terror financing", he said.

Banks and money exchangers must also put monitoring standards in place to curb the exploitation of charitable organisations for illegal purposes, al-Obaidi said.

'Genuinely committed to fighting money laundering'

Ahmed al-Busairi, a member of the regional board of representatives of the MENAFATF, recommended a number of measures to combat money laundering.

"Many countries have suffered from terrorist attacks and are therefore genuinely committed to fighting money laundering and terror financing," he said.

"If no action is taken to curb this phenomenon, the vicious cycle will repeat and the epidemic will continue to exist in our communities," he added.

Recommendations for combating these crimes include formulating measures that criminalise them, freezing and confiscating assets, reporting suspicious transactions, alternative remittances and electronic transfers and reviewing the efficacy of laws related to charities that may be exploited to finance terrorism, al-Busairi said.

Raising awareness

Lawyer Abdullah al-Rasheed, a member of the Jeddah Centre for Law and Arbitration at the Chamber of Commerce and Industry, called for a clear definition of money laundering and terror financing, the traditional methods used to undertake both and the international regulations put in place to combat them.

"Money laundering is a threat to the economies of the entire world, and therefore it is important that everyone work within a global framework to combat these crimes," he said, urging banks to disclose money-laundering crimes and to notify the authorities whenever they occur.

Al-Rasheed also said local banks must train their staff and encourage them to seek to detect money laundering activities.

"These measures must be accompanied by raising awareness among citizens about the seriousness of money laundering crimes, which cause serious economic damage, and bolstering the regulatory system, the cornerstone of the war on suspicious financial transactions," he said.