Consortium launched to cut off militants' funds
Tue, Feb 12, 2008
The Straits Times

ACADEMICS, banks and governments have joined hands to cut off funding for militant groups in Southeast Asia, which could reach US$3 million (S$4.25 million) a month.

The Consortium for Countering the Financing of Terrorism (CCFT), a partnership by the Association of Banks in Singapore (ABS), the Ministry of Home Affairs and the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) and based at the Nanyang Technological University, was launched at a seminar on Tuesday.

Terrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna, who was at the seminar organised by the Commercial Affairs Department, ABS and RSIS, said militant groups, such as the Abu Sayyaf, Jemmah Islamiyah (JI), Moro Islamic Liberation Front and Mujahideen Kompak, move between US$2 million and US$3 million in the region every month.

The funds come from a variety of sources, including individual donors, proceeds from crime, and in the case of the JI here, businesses operated by the terrorists.

Others like Indonesia's Mujahideen Kompak get funding from charities which had been infiltrated by the terrorists themselves, he added.

Dr Gunaratna, head of the singapore-based International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research, based his assessment on statements given by captured terrorists and documents seized from their training caps when such groups were busted.

Speaking to reporters on the sidelines of the seminar, he said such groups use the banking system, informal money transfers and couriers carrying bags of cash to transfer the funds, but he would not name the banks.

These incidents underline the importance for banks and governments of different countries to share their expertise in spotting suspicious bank transfers.

Sir James Sassoon, president of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), highlighted the importance of such international cooperation in his keynote address.

FATF is an inter-governmental body dedicated to combat money laundering and terrorist financing.

Sir Sassoon said: 'International financial centres, such as London, New York or Singapore, are attractive to money launderers who want to clean their ill-gotten gains, or terrorist financiers who want to use the financial sector to fund their activities.'

Mrs Ong-Ang Ai Boon, director of ABS, said the association's 119 member banks here are fully committed to tackling these issues.

'While no study has been done to find out how much each bank spends on detecting suspicious transactions, every individual bank has invested heavily in putting up the systems and training its staff to do so,' she said.

Mrs Ong added that a bank's reputation is at stake each time someone tries to use it to launder money.

'No bank wants to be part of a chain to launder money, so a bank would rather not do business with that particular customer at all,' she said.

BNP Paribas (Singapore) has reported at least 20 suspicious transactions to the Commercial Affairs Department last year and even terminated two bank accounts, said its head of compliance (South-east Asia and India), Mrs Yvette Cheak.

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