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EU adds S. Arabia to dirty-money blacklist

February 14, 2019

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STRASBOURG: The European Commission added Saudi Arabia, Panama, Nigeria and other jurisdictions to a blacklist of nations seen as posing a threat because of lax controls on terrorism financing and money laundering, the EU executive said on Wednesday.

The move is part of a crackdown on money laundering after several scandals at EU banks but has been criticised by several EU countries including Britain worried about their economic relations with the listed states, notably Saudi Arabia.

Despite pressure to exclude Riyadh from the list, the commission decided to list the kingdom, confirming a Reuters report in January.

Also newcomers to the list are Libya, Botswana, Ghana, Samoa, the Bahamas and the four United States territories of American Samoa, US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and Guam.

The other listed states are Afghanistan, North Korea, Ethiopia, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Syria, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia and Yemen. Bosnia, Guyana, Laos, Uganda and Vanuatu were removed.

The 28 EU member states now have one month, which can be extended to two, to endorse the list. They could reject it by qualified majority. EU justice commissioner Vera Jourova, who proposed the list, told a news conference that she was confident states would not block it. She said it was urgent to act because “risks spread like wildfire in the banking sector”.

London has led a pushback against the EU list in past days, and at closed-door meetings urged the exclusion of Saudi Arabia, EU sources said. The oil-rich kingdom is a major importer of goods and weapons from the EU. Several top British banks have operations there. Royal Bank of Scotland is the European bank with the largest turnover in Saudi Arabia, with around 150 million euros ($169.28 million) in 2015, according to public data.

Critics said the list fell short of including several countries involved in money-laundering scandals in Europe.

“Some of the biggest dirty-money washing machines are still missing. These include Russia, the City of London and its offshore territories as well as Azerbaijan,” said Greens lawmaker Sven Giegold, who sits in the European Parliament special committee on financial crimes.

Published in Dawn, February 14th, 2019