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Khamenei Shoots Down Proposal To Join Global Convention Against Money Laundering

IRAN -- Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei attends a meeting with lawmakers in Tehran, June 20, 2018
IRAN -- Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei attends a meeting with lawmakers in Tehran, June 20, 2018

The speaker of Iran’s parliament, Ali Larijani, says the legislative body will take into account the Supreme Leader’s “full directives” when considering major bills like the proposal to join the UN Convention Against Transnational Organized Crimes (UNTOC), with which the Supreme Leader has voiced his disapproval.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called the bill “unacceptable” June 20, saying the UNTOC, the objective of which is to fight primarily money laundering and terrorism funding, 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 parliament create its own laws to combat money laundering and terrorism funding rather than join an international convention.

The Financial Action Task Force (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, which can be eased if the country joins the UN convention and accepts other reforms demanded by FATF.

President Hassan Rouhani’s government had introduced four bills last November hoping to pave the way for Tehran to join the UNTOC, thereby easing these financial pressures on the Islamic Republic. None have so far passed.

Last week, parliament abruptly suspended debate over the bills for two months. Analysts say the main cause of opposition to joining the convention is that it would thwart Tehran’s financial assistance to its allies abroad, including Lebanon's Hezbollah and the Palestinian group Hamas, both considered terrorist organizations by the United States and dozens of other governments around the world.

In the meantime, several members of parliament complained that they had received threatening anonymous messages warning them not to support the bills.

The ultra-conservative Friday prayer leader for the city of Mashhad, Ayatollah Ahmad Alamolhoda, also publicly labelled the supporters of the bill as “traitors” and indirectly threatened them with assassination.

According to Tehran’s outspoken MP Mahmoud Sadeghi, “the seven-headed dragon of the [Islamic Republic’s] banking system” has played a pivotal role in opposing the recent bills proposed by President Rouhani’s government.

For the third consecutive year, Iran was ranked as the world’s top global money laundering threat in 2016 by the Basel Institute on Governance.

The 2016 Basel Anti-Money Laundering (AML) Index identified Iran as the highest money laundering risk out of 149 countries surveyed.

The Wall Street Journal commented at the time, “Companies are hesitant to resume commercial ties with Iran because of money laundering concerns.”

Nevertheless, state-run Mehr News Agency (MNA) on June 21 cited Ayatollah Khamenei as saying, “Major powers devise these conventions to suit their own interests, while other countries, whether in approval or fear, pass them as their own domestic laws.”

Khamenei, as the Supreme Leader, has the final say on all state matters in Iran.