UN loophole on terror financing is an urgent wake-up call: The world deserves answers

UN loophole on terror financing is an urgent wake-up call: The world deserves answers
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The Wall Street Journal recently reported that blacklisted al Qaeda and Islamic State terrorists and their supporters are able to tap their bank accounts despite a U.N. asset freeze.

According to the WSJ, amongst those who had banking facilities was Khalifa al-Subaiy, a Qatari financier who the U.S. says long provided financial support to senior al Qaeda leadership, including Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. The WSJ said that documents it reviewed showed al-Subaiy had an account with Qatar National Bank. The WSJ attributed this to what it called “loopholes” in United Nations sanctions procedures.

The revelations in the WSJ should serve as a wake-up to Europe and the rest of the civilized world. For someone to make it to the UN sanctions list is not an easy achievement. Al-Subaiy is someone well known to the authorities, including, supposedly, banks. He was associated with the most dangerous of terrorists, responsible for the 9/11 terrorist attacks, that changed the face of the world. As he is on the UN sanctions list, he is not the sort of person who can be given the benefit of the doubt and certainly not the sort of person who deserves leniency.

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Affording al-Subaiy banking facilities is a collective failure of all those involved. The United Nations’ ability to enforce its own sanctions list is very much under the spot light. In addition, Qatar needs to explain to the world why it has allowed such a dangerous person to continue having banking services. Of equal importance is the responsibility of the banks that provided such facilities for him.

Opening bank accounts has become a very tedious endeavour even for the most average of citizens. Banks conduct very strict due diligence on account holders to ensure the bank does not become inadvertently a vehicle for malicious financing activities. Whilst the failure of states in enforcing UN sanctions is something for the international community and international courts to deal with, banking regulators also need to act.

The bank that the WSJ said al-Subaiy used has branches across Europe and around the world. It can only be assumed that al-Subaiy had through this extensive global banking network, access to those countries in which banks he uses operate. This not only makes a mockery of the United Nations, it also endangers global security. Banks should no longer be allowed to hide behind loopholes, particularly when it comes to terrorism financing.

It is impossible to assess the potential harm that has been caused without an extensive and transparent investigation. It is therefore of extreme urgency that the relevant authorities conduct the following:

First, the United Nations needs to investigate why loopholes in its own procedures allowed this breach.

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Second, Qatar needs to conduct its own investigations and report to the international community why it has allowed an individual on the UN sanctions list to have banking facilities through its most global bank, and give reassurances that he — and other terrorists — are not afforded banking facilities.

Third, Qatar National Bank needs to conduct its own investigation on the matter and offer to law enforcement authorities around the world, particularly where the bank operates, details of transactions carried out by the individual named in the WSJ investigation, and give reassurances that others who may also be on the list are not being provided banking facilities.

Fourth, banking regulators in countries where the bank operates should conduct their own investigations on why this failure happened and employ urgent remedial measures both to ensure any potential damage done is mitigated and that no such potential breaches take place.

If the WSJ investigation proves to be correct, it a clear collective failure of the sort that endangers global security. Such failures can cost lives.

Terror financing is the backbone of the ecosystem that allows terrorism to flourish. Europe and the rest of the world need urgent answers that such failures not only will not happen again, but that they will carry heavy consequences against those who turn a blind eye on our collective prosperity as a human race.

We need to act.

Nathalie Goulet is a member of the Senate of France, representing Orne, Normandy, since 2007; she led a commission investigating jihadist networks in Europe and wrote a report for NATO on the financing of terrorism. Follow her on Twitter @senateur61.