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Fate Of Anti-Corruption Bills Uncertain As Hardliner Clerics Continue Attacks


Tehran's Friday Prayer Temporary Imam, Kazem Sedighi. Undated

Secretary of Iran's Expediency Council Mohsen Rezai said on Saturday December 15 that the bill drafted to pave the way for Iran to join the International Convention against Funding Terrorism (CFT) has not reached the council, therefore, council members cannot pass a judgement on it.

This means more ambiguity and delay in a lengthy process in Iran, that has pit President Hassan Rouhani’s administration and a majority of parliament against hardliners who have launched a campaign to prevent Iran from signing up to a serioes of international conventions aimed at money laundering and financing terrorists.

The presidium of the Iranian Parliament (Majles) had announced earlier that Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani sent the bill to the Expediency Council, a body that has the final say on legislations if the Majles and hardline-dominated watchdog Guardian Council cannot agree on its.

Rezai told the Iranian news agency that council was reviewing the bills on combating money laundering which were sent to the Expediency Council because of disagreement between the Majles and the Guardian Council.

Meanwhile, Tehran's interim Friday Prayer Leader has once again called for keeping Iran out of international anti-corruption, anti-money-laundering rules and regulations.

A mid-ranking cleric appointed by the Islamic Republic's Supreme Leader as temporary Friday Prayer Leader of the Iranian capital, the Expediency Council to reject the bills concerning the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), money laundering and financing international terrorism.

Kazem Seddighi, who had earlier the bills as "humiliating", insisted on Friday, December 14, that the endorsement of the bills equals "self-imposed sanctions".

Claiming that Iran has been capable of bypassing U.S. sanctions imposed on Tehran, Seddighi maintained, “Joining FATF will increase the enemy's information about our banking sources."

Seddighi's comments echoed his remarks on November 10, when he compared joining FATF with capitulation.

"Today, we are demanding from the authorities to reject the humiliating FATF bills, which are similar to a capitulation treaty,” Seddighi noted.

The word capitulation has a special connotation in Iran. During the weak Qajar Dynasty in late 19th and early 20th centuries, European powers demanded immunity from prosecution for their subjects in Iran, forcing the country to capitulate to their demands. However, there was no modern justice system in Iran at the time, which could partly explain why Europeans demanded an exemption. But in Iranian political culture, capitulation became a synonym with lack of sovereignty and national indignity.

Rouhani's proposals, if passed, would pave the way for the country to meet FATF requirements -- as well as those of the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC), Combatting the Financing of Terrorism (CFT), and the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crimes -- in the hope of reducing international pressure on Iran’s deteriorating economy.

Originally proposed in November 2017, the bills have met with staunch resistance from hardliners, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who says the agreements were “cooked up” by foreign enemies.

The opponents are mainly Friday Prayer leaders, Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps commanders, and other conservative allies of Khamenei’s. They argue that passing the bills will threaten Iran’s security, whereas analysts say the real fear in circles loyal to the Supreme Leader is that adhering to rules for financial transparency would prevent Tehran from funding the Lebanese Hezbollah and Palestinian Hamas militant groups.

But there are also the financial interests of powerful regime officials and their businesses that have functioned in an environment free of international standards.

The fate of the proposals is currently in the hands of the Expediency Discernment Council which is assigned to resolve differences between the Majles (parliament) and the Guardian Council, but its true power lies more in its advisory role to the Supreme Leader.

Meanwhile, a member of EDC, mid-ranking cleric Majid Ansari said that the council is set to debate FATF on Saturday.

Speaking to the monopolized state-run TV, pro-reform Ansari predicted that EDC will stamp Rouhani's proposal to amend money laundering laws.

The speaker of Majles, Ali Larijani has repeatedly asserted that not only European banks but also "friendly" countries' banks have repeatedly announced that their condition for cooperating with Iran is the endorsement of President Rouhani's proposals, collectively known as "Palermo bills" in Tehran.

Rouhani has also repeatedly defended the proposals and lambasted critics for blocking the government's plan to join international anti-money laundering conventions such as FATF.

“Without cooperation with foreign banks, the cost of living would be 20 percent higher. By passing FATF bills costs would decrease 20 percent,” Rouhani said on December 10 at a meeting with officials from the Roads and Urban Development Ministry, official news agency IRNA, reported.

“It is not acceptable that some organizations come up with rhetoric (against passing such bills) without telling people the consequences of not doing so,” he added.

FATF has given Tehran until February to either endorse UNTOC or be added to its blacklist of countries refusing to cooperate in the fight against money laundering and financing terrorism. The International Monetary Fund is urging Tehran to endorse the bills.

Iran and North Korea are the only countries on the FATF blacklist, but the Paris-based organization has suspended countermeasures against Tehran while it works on reforms.

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