Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif says those who profit from money laundering are spending millions of dollars to prevent the passage of legislation requiring more financial transparency.
Known collectively in Iran as the Palermo Bills, the legislation would pave the way for the country to meet the requirements of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crimes (UNTOC), Combatting Financing Terrorism (CFT), and the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crimes (UNODC) -- in the hope of reducing international pressure on Iran’s already troubled economy.
Originally proposed by President Hassan Rouhani in November last year, the bills have met staunch resistance from hardliners, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who says the agreements have been “cooked up” by foreign enemies.
"The amount spent for creating an atmosphere against these bills is equal to the Foreign Ministry's budget,” Zarif was cited as saying November 11 on the local website Khabar Online.
The foreign minister went on to accuse government agencies, that he refrained from naming, of mounting the campaign against the Palermo Bills.
"We cannot challenge the scenes set by these wealthy and mighty state-organs,” he said.
Following the remarks, some members of the Iranian Parliament (Majles) described his comments as "biased" and "unsubstantiated."
Ali Akbar Karimi, a member of the Majles Economy Committee, said that Zarif's "biased" remarks does not answer concerns about Iran joining the Convention against Funding Terrorism (CFT). Karimi further asked Zarif to give examples of money laundering by government institutions.
Meanwhile, another MP, Alireza Salimi, said he was sorry for Zarif, and called on him to substantiate what he said, and do not let foreigners to use his comments as a pretext to exert pressure on Iran.
Commanders of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), Friday Prayer Leaders across Iran, and other figures appointed by the Islamic Republic's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have repeatedly opposed the passage of UN sponsored conventions against financing international terrorism and money laundering.
In June, members of parliament discussed Combating the Financing of Terrorism (CFT) accession bill, which is one of the Palermo Bills put forward by Rouhani's government, along with a proposal to adopt the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) standards. The bill was shelved for two months. Later, it was approved by parliament but rejected by the conservative-dominated Guardian Council.
Parliament did approve a bill on the country’s accession to the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, also known as the Palermo Convention, but the bill was rejected by the Guardian Council.
Parliament has since referred the bill to the Expediency Council to make the final decision.
An amendment to the anti-money laundering law of the Islamic Republic proposed by Rouhani’s government has met a similar fate. It was approved by the parliament but rejected by both the Guardian Council and Expediency Council.
Meanwhile, an amendment to the country’s law against financing terrorism was approved by both parliament and the Guardian Council, and signed into law by President Hassan Rouhani, state-run Mehr News Agency (MNA) reported.
Those who oppose the bills have argued that passing them is a threat to Iran’s security. Analysts say the real fear in circles loyal to the Supreme Leader is that adhering to the financial transparency requirements would prevent Iran from financially supporting the Lebanese Hezbollah and Palestinian Hamas militant groups.
But their opposition can also have more selfish reasons, as many officials and opaque organizations with secret budgets and corrupt dealings would not like to be subjected to more transparency.
The FATF has given Tehran until February to either endorse the UNTOC or be added to its “black list” of countries refusing to cooperate in the fight against money laundering and financing terrorism. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is urging Tehran to endorse the bills before the deadline set by FATF.