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Iran Again Postpones Decision On Anti-Terror-Financing Bill As Deadline Looms

Iran's Expediency Discernment Council meets in Tehran on February 16. At center is Ayatollah Larijani, head of Iran's conservative Judiciary. The empty seat next to him is probably reserved for President Hassan Rouhani, who has not been attending council meetings.

On Saturday, Iran’s Expediency Discernment Council (EDC) once again postponed decision on endorsing or rejecting two financial bills demanded by an international watchdog and important for Iran’s banking and international trade.

Parliament has approved the bills but a body overseeing all legislation has rejected them, referring the bills to EDC for a final ruling.

The deadline set by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) for Tehran to join international conventions against money laundering and financing terrorism is early next week, as the financial watchdog based in Paris is set to start its five-day meeting on Sunday, February 17.

For more than a year Iran’s conservatives have created hurdles and delays for the adoption of the bills.

Today’s postponement was not a big surprise as on Friday several Prayer leaders and the secretary of the influential Expediency Discernment Council (EDC) once again lambasted the financial regulatory bills.

President Hassan Rouhani presented legislation to parliament more than a year ago to meet FATF requirements, which would reduce international pressure on Iran’s deteriorating economy.
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 adopting the legislation to reform its banking and financial systems.

The upcoming FATF meeting is to be held in Paris February 17-22, where the fate of Iran will be decided.

No Iranian representative will be in attendance.

Rouhani has proposed four bills, collectively known as the Palermo bills in Iran, in the hope of paving the way for the country to meet the 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.

Out of four parliamentary bills required for Tehran's accession to the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), only two of them have so far been ratified, and the other two are still in limbo.

The bills have triggered a series of heated debates between the parliament and the Guardian Council (GC), as well as the EDC.

Several gatherings were held by conservatives and opponents on February 15 across Iran protesting the bills and urging the EDC to reject them.

The EDC's secretary and former chief commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, Mohsen Rezaei, said on February 15, "We are suspicious of the Palermo bills and anti-terror financing legislation and asked the government and parliament to clear up their ambiguities."

But Rezaei seemed to be pairing the bills with the EU's initiative to get around U.S. sanctions, saying the EU plan is inadequate. "Iran cannot directly receive any money for its oil through INSTEX."

Germany, France, and the United Kingdom have set up a payment channel with Iran, the Instrument in Support of Trade Exchange (INSTEX), to help continue trade with Iran and circumvent U.S. sanctions. Washington has repeatedly cautioned EU nations against such actions.

Based on INSTEX, Rezaei has argued, "Iran is only allowed to receive medicine and foodstuff for the crude oil it exports."

Iranian officials have been hinting that Europe's trade mechanism and the adoption of FATF legislation are linked. Now that Europe has set up INSTEX, they seem to be demanding more; which is unrestricted trade.

The opponents of the bills, mainly Friday Prayer leaders, IRGC top commanders, and other conservative allies of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, argue that passing the bills will threaten Iran’s security, whereas analysts say the real fear in circles loyal to Khamenei 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 so far functioned in an environment free of international standards.

The city of Rasht's Friday Prayer leader, Rasoul Falahati, criticized supporters of the bill and dismissed the impact of endorsing them on EU's behavior. "Europeans have placed shameful regulations for Iran on the top of their agenda," he said.

To encourage opponents of the Palermo bills, the city of Babol's Friday Prayer leader, Hadi Rowhani, attended a sit-in protest assembly at the city's main mosque.

On the other hand, a pro-reform member of the EDC, mid-ranking cleric Majid Ansari, said he had been threatened for supporting the Palermo bills.

Referring to recent text messages relayed to the EDC members warning them against endorsing the bills, the head of the Omid (Hope) parliamentary faction, Mohammad Reza Aref, said in a tweet, "The members of the EDC will never give in to such threats and 'setting stages', and will do their jobs according to their religious and national duties."