Iran foreign minister urges government to join international money laundering watchdog

Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, warned Tuesday that not joining the Financial Action Task Force, the international coalition that combats money laundering and terrorist financing, would “harm the national interests of the country.”

His comments to the Iranian Labour News Agency came just days after Iran’s Assembly of Experts, the body that vets legislation, issued an unprecedented statement saying Iran’s membership in FATF would be a “strategic mistake.”

On Monday, Mohsen Rezaei, secretary of Iran’s Expediency Council, the committee that resolves differences between the parliament and the Guardian Council, echoed the assembly’s stance. Rezaei said that the majority of the council stood against joining FATF.

FATF has given Iran until June to join or face being added to a financial blacklist, a move that could further cripple its economy by affecting trade or financial dealings with the EU and other FATF member states. The move could also jeopardize INSTEX, the new special purpose vehicle created by France, Germany and the U.K. to facilitate humanitarian trade. Iran was taken off the blacklist in 2016.

Efforts to join FATF began in November 2017 when President Hassan Rouhani pushed for the ratification of two of four FATF requirements. Despite early ratification, the bill took two years to get final approval by the Expediency Council and the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, passing in January 2019.

Within Iran, hardliners and allies of the supreme leader have argued the remaining requirements — the Palermo convention and the Combating Financing of Terrorism bill — would curtail Iran’s ability to support regional allies such as Hezbollah and Hamas. However, reformers have said the measures are critical for the financial well-being of the country.

Esfandyar Batmanghelidj, founder of Bourse & Bazaar, which tracks developments in Iran’s economy, says regardless of setbacks in parliament, these bills are not dead in the water. “There is a sense the process wouldn’t have gotten this far if there wasn’t a consensus that this needed to happen,” he said.

Despite the June deadline, FATF has given some leeway to Iran in the past. Batmanghelidj points out that the watchdog as well as European allies both understand the internal pressures working against Rouhani and have attempted to keep the issue from being politicized.

Passing the FATF requirements is part of Rouhani’s vow to fight corruption, curb military control of the economy and stabilize the financial system. But, as Batmanghelidj points out, fulfilling FATF requirements is just one step and more will have to be done. “There will need to be structural changes in the financial system,” he said.

A final decision on FATF requirements has been postponed by the Expediency Council until after the Iranian New Year holiday, which began Wednesday.

Source » cnbc

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