Khalil: Terror funding to feel Lebanon’s full force

Lebanon will fully mobilize its political, financial and judicial resources to complete the battle against terrorism financing, Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil said Friday. “Our endeavor doesn’t aim to target any entity but merely to clarify matters concerning Lebanon’s stance on terrorism and money laundering, which are very critical at this stage,” Khalil said as he addressed the World Union of Arab Bankers conference held in Beirut’s Phoenicia Hotel.

He underlined that Lebanon is “in the eye” of the storm, emphasizing that there is “a fine line between [joining efforts to combat terrorism] and protecting our [Lebanon’s] sovereignty and independence.”

Khalil affirmed that the country’s financial situation is still “under control,” highlighting that he had proposed a batch of reforms which could further preserve it.

The minister called for “serious political will and a high sense of responsibility to confront the dangerous developments,” urging political rivals to “cease all opportunities” for money launderers and terrorism financers.

The minister announced over the weekend that he would head to Washington “soon” to discuss recent sanctions imposed by the United States on Hezbollah.

In December, U.S. lawmakers unanimously passed a bill to tighten financial sanctions against Hezbollah, which was swiftly signed into law by President Barack Obama.

Khalil warned that “Lebanon is being targeted, today more than ever, by international terror. But the country is determined to confront it.”

“The battle requires reliable cooperation between everyone, as it [terrorism] is targeting everyone and isn’t excluding anyone.”

He noted that the conference aims to shed light on one of the aspects of terrorism – money laundering – “which greatly impacts the stability of countries and its growth, and has become a global concern.”

“Despite all of the political complications and converging crises, starting with the power vacuum at the state’s top post and obstacles impeding the work of the Parliament and Cabinet, we have managed to put the national interests at the forefront.”

Khalil hailed a Parliament meeting in November last year that saw a number of bills approved, including the anti-money laundering law and the exchange of tax information law.

“It reflects Lebanon’s determination to abide by the laws and international standards regarding anti-terrorism battles and money laundering, which is part of the country’s banking system.”

He expressed optimism that Lebanon “could restore its main role in the region and the world regardless of the economic, financial and different challenges that aim to undermine its growth, by preserving its banking sector and reviving the work of its institutions.”

Other speakers voiced support for real actions to combat money laundering and terrorism funding in Lebanon and the Middle East.

One such speaker was Joseph Torbey, the president of the Association of Banks in Lebanon and head of the World Union of Arab Banks.

Torbey said the region is passing through a stage of uncertainty amid bloody conflicts in several countries. He added that all these conflicts had a devastating effect on the economies of the Middle East in general.

“Under the impact of globalization and the opening up of financial markets, and the fact that the crimes of money laundering have crossed all boundaries, the need arose quickly to create mechanisms for international cooperation to confront them,” Torbey said.

He stressed that all states must fully abide by U.S. and international resolutions on anti-money laundering and terrorism financing.

Torbey said the conference will address a package of old and emerging topics that always carry a special flavor because of the conditions imposed on the development of processing methods consistently.

“Among the issues which are currently preoccupying the minds of the banks today is the phenomenon of derisking, which spreads among Arab bankers and non-Arabs as a result of the possibility of the inability of banks sometimes to comply with requirements,” he added.

Torbey noted that some banks prefer to avoid dealing with some banks, clients and sectors, and this phenomenon is known as derisking.

Derisking entails making something safer by reducing the possibility that something bad will happen and that money will be lost.

“It is also known that this problem has become of concern to all stakeholders from various public and private entities. We sleep on the procedure, or a package of measures, and wake up to a new package of measures, legislations and laws, and this has become a concern for everyone, and we have to work and follow up these developments, and strive to understand the imposed measures,” Torbey said.

He underlined the need for coordination between the various stakeholders and to develop the means of confrontation on the various legal, legislative, e-logistics, scientific and administrative levels.

Other speakers stressed that terrorism financing has become a serious issue and for this reason the world must be united to combat this phenomenon.