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G-7 threatens to punish Israel for money laundering

By Tal Muscal, Jerusalem Post, 09/25/2000

JERUSALEM (September 25) - Finance ministers and central bankers from the seven major industrial countries yesterday threatened penalties against "uncooperative" countries or territories - including Israel - that refuse to comply with an international set of rules aimed at rooting out money laundering.

Penalties "would include the possibility to condition or restrict financial transactions" and the withdrawal of aid given by international organizations, such as the International Monetary Fund, officials from the Group of Seven countries said in a statement after their meeting in Prague.

The countries or territories targeted are the 15 identified in a blacklist released June 22 by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) on money laundering, a group made up mostly of members of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Countries other than Israel on the blacklist include Russia, Panama, and the Cayman Islands.

The inclusion of Israel on the blacklist sparked the passage of legislation combating money laundering before the Knesset's summer recess. However, implementation of specific articles of the law has not yet been carried out. "It will take more time until technical aspects are worked out," MK Tzipi Livni (Likud), former chairwoman of the Knesset subcommittee on money laundering, told The Jerusalem Post.

As part of the new law, there will be mandatory registration of large deposits in a database. In addition, financial institutions will be required to report suspicious transactions. "It's now up to the Justice Ministry and the banks to enforce the regulations," Livni said.

Justice Ministry officials attached great importance to the legislation. "The law went into effect on August 17," said one official, adding: "We are making an effort to comply with [it]."

According to the ministry, work has already commenced to institute the law's various regulations. "While we are committed to having the laws in place within 18 months, the ministry is doing its best to reach compliance sooner," the official said.

The threat of sanctions is the latest step by the G-7 to combat practices intended to disguise the flow of money involved in criminal activity. The G-7 has championed tighter rules and regulations of the international financial system in light of the turmoil caused in Asia, Latin America, and Russia in late 1998. It is a project that started in 1989, with the creation of FATF.

"We have already issued advisories to our banks and other financial institutions to demonstrate our commitment in this field," the G7 - the US, Japan, Germany, Italy, Canada, France, and the UK - said in its statement.

Some of the countries or territories identified for their "harmful" tax regimes are already cooperating. In June, six territories and countries pledged to eliminate "harmful" tax practices by the end of 2005. They are Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, Cyprus, Malta, Mauritius, and San Marino.

The G-7 officials recognized that for some countries, notably Russia, the issue is more fundamental. They signaled they would be prepared to send technical advisers to assist countries "that commit to making improvements to their regimes."

FATF based its blacklist on countries or territories that failed to comply with 25 guidelines for standards of financial regulation, disclosure, enforcement, and cooperation to combat crime.

Meanwhile, as the IMF and World Bank open their annual meetings in Prague tomorrow, the sinking euro and rising oil are expected to top the agenda, and all eyes will be on financial markets today to see if Friday's efforts to prop up the euro and push oil lower will work.

Europeans tried to paint a picture of unified, enthusiastic support for their flagging currency yesterday, amid fears the US is only halfheartedly behind Friday's surprise intervention.

A synchronized move by the US, Japan, the European Central Bank, and other allies to buy the euro on foreign exchange markets immediately boosted the currency.

The euro surged from about 86 US cents to 90 US cents - but halved those gains by the end of Friday's trading - after US Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers said America has a vital interest in a strong dollar.

The statement cast doubt on US commitment to the intervention and perhaps future interventions, which essentially weaken the dollar to give a boost to the euro.

Also on Friday, US President Bill Clinton said he would tap into an emergency oil stockpile to push prices lower.

IMF officials introduced a new plan yesterday to stabilize the global oil market by bringing producers and consumers together, hailing it as a major breakthrough in the current crisis, which has seen oil prices surge to a 10-year high above $30 per barrel, triple the price of early 1999.

In the past, it has been difficult to get producers and consumers to agree on plans for the oil market, however, and the latest effort was still short on details.

It was contained as a major point in the final communique of the IMF's top policy-setting panel, the International Monetary and Financial Committee, and represents a compromise with finance ministers from big oil consuming countries and top producers, including Saudi Arabia.

"This is the IMF at its best working to bring oil producers and consumers together," said Gordon Brown, Britain's chancellor of the exchequer and the chairman of the IMF policy panel. "There is a common understanding of the need for more stability and also a reasonable price."

(News agencies contributed to this report.)

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