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Iran's Watchdog Rejects Bills To Join U.N. Crime Conventions

Guardian Council members; Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi (R), and Ahmad Jannati (C), attending a session of Assembly of Experts in 2015.

Iran's Guardian Council (GC) has rejected two government bills aiming to pave the way for Tehran to join the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime (UNTOC).

UNTOC is a UN-sponsored multilateral treaty against transnational organized crime, including money laundering and human trafficking.

Iran, along with Bhutan, Republic of Congo, Palau, Papua New Guinee, Solomon Islands, Somalia, South Sudan and Tuvalu, is the only member of the UN that is not a signatory to the convention.

State-run news agency IRNA cited GC spokesman Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei as saying on July 14, “Iran’s membership in UNTOC is against both the security policies of the country and the resistance economy.”

The GC is a body unique to the Islamic Republic's labyrinth of competing state institutions tasked to guard against any deviations from what the established leadership sees as taboo. GC has the constitutional right to disapprove parliament's decisions. It is controlled by the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei.

Kadkhodaei told reporters that the UNTOC bill, also known as the "Palermo bill” in Iran, was discussed at several meetings of the GC and some shortcomings were discovered with the bill.

The bill concerning Iran’s membership in UNTOC was first passed by the Iranian parliament last January, but the GC returned it for amendments for further consideration.

Kadkhodaei said on July 14 that there were issues with the “translated version of the convention” that were addressed and edited by the parliament but that there were still problems with Article 3 of the bill.

He said the GC confirmed the two shortcomings with the bill that had already been singled out by the Expediency Discerning Council (EDC), another body with supervisory duties.

The EDC had called upon the parliament on June 30 to remove what it described as “the ambiguities” concerning the bill.

President Hassan Rouhani’s administration has proposed four bills concerning the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), UNTOC, and the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crimes (UNODC), hoping to reduce international pressures on Iran’s deteriorating economy.

Regarding the FATF-related bill compiled for Iran’s accession to the International Convention for the Suppression of Financing of Terrorism (CFT), the GC spokesman said it is in conflict with clause 2 of Article 158 of the Iranian Constitution.

He noted the GC has not received the CFT bill yet and it will announce its stance on the bill when it receives it, MNA reported.

Meanwhile, Kadkhodaei reiterated Khameni's recent warnings about FATF and Iran’s membership in UNTOC.

FATF, a G7 initiative to combat money laundering and terrorism financing, has placed Iran beside North Korea for nearly two decades at the top of the list of countries with the highest economic and financial risks. This has brought tough banking restrictions on Iran that could be eased if the country joined the UN convention and accepted other reforms demanded by FATF.

On June 20, Khamenei called the bills unacceptable, saying UNTOC had been “cooked up” by foreign powers and that the parliament should shelve it.

“It is not necessary to join conventions the depths of which we are unaware of,” he said, proposing instead that the parliament create its own laws to combat money laundering and terrorism funding rather than join an international convention.

Iran says it has implement anti-money laundering standards set by FATF for years, but the group says it is not satisfied with the measures.

FATF took a harder line on June 29 on Tehran. The group warned Tehran of "appropriate and necessary actions" if it does not to enact amendments in full compliance with its standards.

In order to get off the FATF blacklist, Tehran needs to pass the bill, but conservative MPs are concerned over certain limitations that the convention might impose on Iran’s ties with what they describe as “resistance groups," including Lebanese Hezbollah and Palestinian Hamas.

In the meantime, several MPs, including Alireza Beigi, have cited Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi as saying that although FATF and UNTOC are not directly connected to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers, it might have a negative impact on European cooperation with Tehran if Iran stays out of these international conventions.

FATF has given Iran until October to pass the related bills.