UN moves to tighten net around IS finances

UN moves to tighten net around IS finances
PHOTO: AFP

UNITED NATIONS: Russian President Vladimir Putin threw his support on Thursday (Dec 17) behind a US-backed measure at the UN Security Council to ramp up sanctions against the Islamic State group and cut off its revenue flows.

US Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew will lead the council's first-ever meeting of finance ministers for the vote that comes amid a major diplomatic push to end the war in Syria, where IS militants control a large swathe of territory and have installed their de facto capital.

The draft resolution is expected to win unanimous backing from the 15-member council, including Russia, Syria's ally which is now in the third month of its air campaign in support of President Bashar Al-Assad.

"We support an initiative by the United States including on the preparation of a UN Security Council resolution on Syria," Putin told reporters during an annual news conference.

The Russian leader said he had discussed the draft resolution with US Secretary of State John Kerry earlier this week.

The measure builds on a previous resolution setting up an Al-Qaeda blacklist, which will be renamed the "ISIL (Daesh) and Al-Qaeda sanctions list" to signal the UN's stronger focus on the IS extremists.

It calls on governments to ensure they have adopted laws that make the financing of IS and of foreign fighters who join its ranks a serious criminal offence.

The measure urges countries to "move vigorously and decisively to cut the flow of funds, and other financial assets and economic resources" including oil and antiquities to the IS group, and to "more actively" submit names to the sanctions list.

A Russian-drafted resolution on cutting off the extremists' revenue streams was adopted in February, but diplomats complain that countries have been slow to take action to choke off sources of funding.

The latest measure would require all countries to report within 120 days on steps taken to target IS financing.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will be asked to prepare a sweeping report in 45 days on the IS threat and its revenue streams.

"If we can get at ISIL's wallet and its financial coffers in an intensified and even more aggressive way, that's going to have a material effect on their ability to prosecute war," US Ambassador Samantha Power said, using an alternative acronym for the IS group.

EARNING MILLIONS PER MONTH

British finance chief George Osborne, supporting the draft resolution, "will call on the Security Council to use the UN sanctions regime to freeze the assets of traders and middlemen who facilitate the illegal trade in oil which provides Daesh with its principal source of revenue," the Treasury said.

"The UK and its international partners must act now to do more to stop the illegal funding of terrorist organisations like Daesh who want to destroy all that we stand for," Osborne said.

According to the London-based IHS analysis firm, the Islamic State group is pulling in US$80 million (S$113 million) per month, but Russian and US coalition air strikes on oil facilities are putting a strain on its finances.

About half of IS revenues come from extortion and looted property, 43 per cent from oil sales and the remainder from drug smuggling, electricity sales and donations, according to IHS.

The UN measure will give countries "more flexibility to go after those who are helping ISIL, whether to move funds, to store funds or to earn funds," said Adam Szubin, a senior US Treasury official.

Countries will be asked to boost information-sharing and in particular reach out to the private sector to enlist them in the financial war against IS.

A UN sanctions committee made up of the 15 Security Council member states can impose an assets freeze, travel ban and arms ban on individuals and entities linked to IS extremists.

The United States, which holds the council presidency this month, is hoping that the high-profile meeting will spur countries to take action, in particular in the region.

"What we most need now is for states to do what they have to do," said a UN diplomat.

French Finance Minister Michel Sapin said it will send a "very strong political message: the fight against the financing of terrorism is one of the priorities of the United Nations' members and every state must take the necessary measures."

After the finance ministers' meeting on Thursday, the Security Council on Friday will bring together foreign ministers to adopt a separate resolution endorsing steps toward a political transition in Syria to end the nearly five-year war.

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