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13 July 2005

Saudi Government Urged to Oversee Charitable Group Activities

Treasury's Levey sees some progress, long way to go on terrorist finance

By Bruce Odessey
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- The Saudi Arabian government must follow through on its commitment to establish a commission to oversee charitable organizations, the U.S. Treasury official responsible for fighting terrorist finance says.

In July 13 testimony prepared for the Senate Banking Committee, Treasury Under Secretary Stuart Levey said such a commission should regulate the activities of charities that cause concern for the United States, especially the International Islamic Relief Organization, the World Association of Muslim Youth and the Muslim World League.

"I recently conveyed my views on these issues to Saudi officials and was met with positive indications that they wish to address these lingering concerns," Levey said.

Freezing all international transfers of the three organizations would represent a "satisfactory short-term solution if implemented fully" by the Saudis, he said.

"Saudi Arabia-based and -funded organizations remain a key source for the promotion of ideologies used by terrorists and violent extremists around the world to justify their hate-filled agenda," Levey said.

He said Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries must lower their reporting thresholds for cross-border transfers of cash and enforce those limits aggressively, arguing that cash couriers pose a deadly danger, especially in Iraq where they pay for insurgents.

The Saudis have made real improvements in cooperation on terrorist finance, especially on information exchange, he said.

In the Palestinian territories also, charities still are being abused to support terrorism, Levey said.  The Bush administration is working with the Palestinian Authority to develop channels for donors to provide humanitarian aid that is not subverted by HAMAS or another terrorist groups, he said.

The Treasury Department continues also to press Syria through a variety of measures for allowing terrorist organizations to flourish there and support the insurgency in Iraq and for meddling in Lebanon, he said.

Part of Treasury's job, he said, is persuading Middle East countries about the importance of making the fight against terrorist finance and money laundering a priority.  Citing trips he made recently to Libya, Jordan and Turkey, he said countries are beginning to realize such attention is required to attract foreign investment.

While Turkey has cooperated closely with the United States on fighting terrorism, he said, "Turkey's current anti-money-laundering and counter-terrorist financing regimes need significant improvement."

International cooperation against terrorist finance is beginning to have a deterrent effect, with groups such as al-Qaida and HAMAS having less easy access to money, he said.

Still, he said, the fight against terrorist finance has far to go, both in implementing new international standards and in responding to specific threats.

"Our most significant progress has been in bringing about a change in mind-set," Levey said.  "There is now near-unanimous recognition among nations that terrorist financing and money laundering pose threats that cannot be ignored, and there is widespread agreement upon a shared set of standards to combat these dangers."

Levey's testimony is available on Treasury's Web site.

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)



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