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Rouhani Defends Anti-Corruption Bills, Citing Lower Cost Of Living

Heated debate in the Iranian parliament over anti-corruption, anti money laundering and anti terror financing bills. October 2018.
Heated debate in the Iranian parliament over anti-corruption, anti money laundering and anti terror financing bills. October 2018.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has lambasted critics for blocking the government's plan to join international anti-money laundering conventions such as the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).

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

“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.

Dismissing critics’ comments as "hollow slogans," Rouhani insisted that if people say they are seeking an "expensive life" they would accept the logic behind such slogans.

“Is it possible to not work with foreign banks today?” Rouhani asked, adding that some people are creating propaganda against the issue and saying signing the convention would lead to a weakening of Islam. “If they understood Islam, they wouldn’t say that,” he added.

Rouhani was referring to the proposals by his administration collectively known as the Palermo bills.

The 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.

Speaking to ministry officials on December 10, Rouhani maintained that if it doesn’t join FATF Tehran will be forced to use foreign exchange bureaus for foreign financial transactions, which costs 20 percent more than using the international banking system.

Iran's economy faces serious crises as the United States has imposed stringent sanctions on the country's banking and oil sales. Throughout the year, multiple protests and labor strikes have ignited the danger of new unrest in the authoritarian country.

Last June, members of the parliament discussed the CFT accession bill, which is one of the Palermo bills, along with a proposal to adopt FATF standards. The bill was shelved for two months. Later, it was approved by the parliament but rejected by the conservative-dominated Guardian Council.

The parliament also approved a bill on the country’s accession to UNTOC, also known as the Palermo Convention, but it was rejected by the Guardian Council.

The parliament has since referred the bill to the Expediency Council to make a final decision.

An amendment to Iran’s anti-money laundering law proposed by Rouhani’s government met a similar fate; it was approved by the parliament but rejected by both the Guardian Council and Expediency Council.

An amendment to Iran’s law against financing terrorism was approved by both the parliament and the Guardian Council and signed into law by Rouhani, state-run Mehr News Agency reported.

While the heated debate over the Palermo bills continues, several members of the parliament, including Tehran MP Parvaneh Salahshouri, have said they have received death threats for voting for the bills.

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.

Meanwhile, on December 10, Israel became a full member of FATF, the international body set up to combat money laundering, terrorist financing, and other threats to the international financial system.

Israel takes its place alongside 37 other members -- including most of the G20, the world’s 20 leading industrialized and emerging economies -- just 16 years after being blacklisted by the organization, local news outlets reported.

"Joining FATF is a national achievement on a political level, contributing to Israel's ability to fight terrorist financing internationally, and strengthening the Israeli economy," Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaket told journalists on December 10.