As the world develops, new challenges are emerging. The 20th century ended with the world facing a number of challenges; for instance poverty reduction and eradication of diseases like polio were the main concern. These challenges were brought together in the 7 millennium development goals in which countries were supposed to tackle by the end of 2015.
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Much improvement has been done, though to achieve the goals completely is still a milestone for some of the developing countries. As the world tries to fulfill the millennium development goals there has been advancements in technology with globalization being at its peak. The last two decades has seen countries joining alliances and becoming members of international bodies which aims at making the world a global village; by enhancing free movement of goods and services within countries.
While globalization has advantages disadvantages cannot be missed in that with the advancements in technology, which has made money transfer easier and countries conducting free trade among themselves a new crop of crime has emerged. Money with no legitimate sources such as drugs and extortions can now be deposited in secret accounts throughout the world with the main aim being tax evasion and hiding from the authorities in case the process which the money was obtained through is illegitimate.
These illegal transactions are what amount to money laundering. Money laundering costs governments a lot of money through tax evasion and also due to the fact that when the money is deposited in foreign accounts it helps those countries develop by investing with the money while denying the same opportunity to invest. How the governments are trying to curb money laundering remains an issue. This study will try to cover what the Saudi bank, whether alone or with assistance of the government, is doing to control this crime.
Money laundering can thus be defined as the illegal process of engaging in money transactions in which due to the origin or the function of the money, the identity, source, and the destination is hidden in order to evade questioning or detection. Others define money laundering as the conversion or transfer of illegally acquired assets for example the proceeds from a criminal activity with the main aim being to hide the origin of the money or concealing from the authorities the amount of money one has.
When individuals engage in money laundering not only do they expose their communities or governments to criminal activities but also the integrity of the financial institutions in which the transactions are carried in is lost and most of the time, though not aware, the individual may expose his or her country to security threats as has been happening of late where laundered money has been used to finance terrorism as noted in the Muslim world.
The Process of Money Laundering
For a money launderer to be successful in his activities, the following is the process in which he undertakes to make sure that the source is completely concealed. The first step involves deposition of money in the bank account or any financial institution offering the services.
The deposition can be done locally or the money may be shipped to international bank accounts where they are deposited. The money can also be used to buy expensive assets such as beaches, vehicles, and precious metals which are subject to reselling at later dates. The second step involves what experts call “layering”. Layering often involves transferring the money into different accounts in order to separate the proceeds from their origins.
The accounts can be given to different people from the family or just coded bank accounts, whereby, incase one wants to withdraw the money a code is required to withdraw the same. The main aim of this step is to cheat or make the audit trail longer if ever detected. The money can also be converted to financial assets such as bonds or shares and be invested for quite a while in order to hide the identity further. The last step involves legitimizing the proceeds.
This step involves using the bought asset as collateral to loans; others go to the extent of producing invoices to non existent organizations this process makes the money appear as if it was gained honestly and it would require the best money laundering detectives to detect any crime from a professional money launderer.
Money laundering activities take place through abuses of both the formal and informal financial channels. The issuance of joint accounts and the latest discovery of money transfer through mobile phones for example the M-Pesa in Kenya can provide a very good platform for money launderers. While the formal institutions pass through the regulatory system, the informal institutions usually operate outside the regulatory system and thus monitoring their activities can be such a hefty and involving procedure.
These informal institutions allow their users to exchange and transfer money or value across borders with minimal or no physical movement of money or paper transactions. Although these systems might be serving for legal and honest purposes, they can be used by money launders as they provide high level of anonymities thus one can escape scrutiny by the financial regulators and other law enforcing agents.
As technology advances, new and efficient methods of detecting money laundering activities have been devised and this has caused the money launderers to transfer their operations to the countries with weak jurisdiction or in countries poorly equipped to detect the crime.
Why not engage in money laundering
According to the available statistics, money laundering is among the largest industries in the world and it is associated with all manners of crime be it cartels, drug trafficking and even extortions. This has in the past forced the US and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to adopt money laundering laws whose main aim has been to try and reduce financial secrecy and promote transparency among the finance industry players.
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But even as these laws continue being enacted more will be needed from the private sector and other financial institutions to take more responsibility in finding ways and measures to eliminate practices that enhance crime, undermine financial systems otherwise they will also damage their own reputations (Zucchi & Farnand, n.d).
If money laundering is done successfully, the criminals are able to maintain the control over their accounts while hiding their location from the authorities. Slowly by slowly they develop legitimate covers for their money and thus detection becomes very hard. The problem with this money laundering is that it facilitates the ambitions of criminals search as tax evaders, drug dealers and many other criminals who need to avoid the much attention from the authority.
For example, the authority may want to know how the wealth was acquired and investigate whether there have been malpractices in the acquiring of the wealth. Money laundering enables them to place their money way beyond the reach of those in authority and thus countries continue making losses as long as these criminal activities are going on (Steel, n.d) .
There are many hurdles or challenges the detectives and investigators are faced with as they try to investigate money laundering and prosecuting those involved. The process of investigating is often a long and involving one and sometimes it is dangerous as most of the money launderers are the powerful people in the society and these people may be operating under a syndicate and thus people can lose their lives if members of the syndicate decides so.
For example in Mexico, the drug dealers are so powerful they somehow decides who the police commissioner should be and if cops seems to go against their way, they get killed by the members thus it is always important for everyone involved to note that some money launderers are so powerful such that one can lose his or her life if he or she goes against their will.
A successful investigation depends largely on keeping the process secret until all investigation is completed. With advancement in technology this can be done through the use of electronic surveillance machines in which the criminals may not even be aware that they are being investigated.
The use of racketeering laws are also among the best laws that can be used when investigating these cases since they allow one to charge numerous members for participating in the crime collectively. Money laundering laws are also important and need to be strong and active so as to restrict the flow of money that forms the lifeblood of criminal organizations (Nardini, 2008).
Motivation for Conducting the Research
As the world globalizes and movement of people and everything else become easier so are we becoming exposed to new and dangerous crimes that never used to exist. Crimes such as terrorism have been on the rise and one of its money sources has been suspected to be from laundered money. With people devising new and illegal ways of earning their money and transferring the illegal earned money to secret or codes accounts in foreign countries much needs to be done to curb this crime.
There have been allegations that the people of Saudi Arabia have been the kingpins in the money laundering industry funding all sort of criminals from suicide bombers in Palestine to funding terrorist groups such as the Al- Qaeda. The desire to know the truth behind these true or fake sentiments was my major motivation by investigating what the Saudi Banks and government is doing to control this form of crime.
Objective of the Research
The general objective of this study is to investigate how the Saudi banks are acting to deal with money laundering; the rules and regulations being enacted in the country in order to reduce chances and exposure to money laundering.
Feasibility of the Study
It is not in Saudi Arabia alone where money laundering is taking place but due to the previous allegations of the country adversely engaging in money laundery, the study will mainly be concerned with investigating the efforts by the Saudi Arabian authorities and banks towards minimizing or completely eradicating money laundery
The World Against Money Laundering: The UN 1988 Convention Against Illicit Traffic In Narcotic Drugs And Psychotropic Substances
Money laundering has become a major concern to the world and in the late 1980s the United Nations held a convention to discuss how this crime could be controlled. The convention agreed to adopt the convention agreements against illicit traffic in narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances.
During this time terrorism had not emerged as a major crime and thus many thought money laundering was mainly used by the drug dealers. According to this convention, every country which was a signatory to the convention was given an obligation of enacting laws within their domestic legal systems which would criminalize money laundering and set penalties in accordance with the international norms while also considering the domestic legislations.
At that time this was a major stride in trying to fight money laundering in drugs industry. The following decade, in the 1990s a new wave crime was sweeping through out the globe and the world was in a tense moment as terrorist activities were experienced everywhere.
Many did not know where these terrorists were emerging from though most were from the Arab origin and their source of funding was another factor which came to play in the minds of many people. It only emerged later that money laundering was a major source of their funding with donations from charity organizations which then brought into question whether the charities were channeling their money to legal or illegal destinations (Weber, 2007).
The Basle Committee
It was held in the year 1988 with the increased world concern over the increased rate of organized crime, power concentration, and finance which was shared within the banking community.
There was a need to change the way banks operated. In this committee it was explained that public confidence in banks and their stability could be undermined if the banks continued with their associations with criminals and also the fact that if banks were found to be cooperating in money laundering resulting in losses from the freezing of assets which would lender the bank inactive until cleared.
The committee to which these concerns were being aired to responded by issuing the December 1988 statement on prevention of crime use in the banking system for the use in money laundering.
The paper was aimed at ensuring the banks were not used to hide or launder the profits of crime. Among its basic principles were that the banks were required to know who their customers were and when dealing in huge transactions, the management was to ensure that any dealings were made in conformity with high ethical standards of all international players (Evans, 1997).
The Financial Action Task Force (FATF)
The following year came the FATF, created in 1989 at a Paris summit. Under this convention, the leaders of G-7 (the seven major industrialized nations) as at that time concluded that there was urgent need in all levels to counter drug production consumption as well as laundering its proceeds. The task force set recommendations to be followed by all the countries which aimed at fighting money laundering (Evans, 1997).
The Vienna Convention
The convention was adopted in the year 1988 also and it laid the groundwork for efforts to reduce if not eliminate money laundering. The convention created an obligation for all signatory states to make it illegal and thus the laundering of money. Its main aim was to promote cooperation in investigating and making extraditions between all the member states.
The convention also provided provisions that domestic bank secrets should not interfere with the international criminal investigation processes and thus full cooperation was required from all member states in case an investigation sprung up (Scott, 1995).
These are among other conventions that have been held with the aim of fighting money laundering.
Saudi Arabia and Money Laundering
Saudi Arabia is a major economic player in Asia and the rest of the world. According to statistics, it is the world largest oil producer and exporter and in the past it has been initiating major developments and has embarked on plans to diverse its economy by investing the petroleum returns in other sectors of the economy such as in information sector.
The country is ruled by a unique legal system where Islamic and its teachings hold the core of the legal system. With the country being concentrated by Muslims, there have been allegations that the country is a major funding source for the Islam linked terrorist groups such as the Al-Qaeda.
These allegations are made despite the country showing some efforts in fighting terrorism by freezing assets and funds associated with money laundering and terrorism funding in the early 1990s, for example the freezing of Bin Laden’s assets in 1994 who is the leader of Alqaeda and its subsequent affiliation groups is one of the efforts which the country has shown (Cordesman, 2005).
The country has been in the recent past associated with money laundering and terrorism funding for example according to a UN report submitted to a 2002 UN secretariat it was indicated that Alqaeda and other jihadist movements had received money to the tune of approximately 500 US million dollars from charities and private organization within the country.
Other reports also show that in 2006 Saudi Arabia was suspected to be funding the Sunni insurgents in Iraq. This among other allegations shows that though the country may be fighting against money laundering more need to be done (Cochrane, 2007). These among other numerous allegations have made the country start acting, though not vigorously as expected, to fight this crime.
The Country Monetary Authority issued guidelines for combating the vice and even created units to counter money laundering activities in the country. Later the government of Saudi Arabia established the anti money laundery policy and even gained international standards with the issuance of the anti-money launder stature of 2003 accompanied by its implementing regulations in the year 2005 (FATF, 2010).
The legal Anti Money Laundery (AML) frame work in Saudi Arabia is made of Sharia laws. This framework seeks to make it a criminal offence for participating in money laundering as required under FATF. Although they have not enacted criminal liability the policy of confiscation and freezing is in operation within the country, though it needs much improvement.
In the year 2004 the country was assessed by the FATF after enacting a free standing terrorism financing offence in line with the United Nations regulations and although not much has been done to counter this crime some efforts have been noted. In the international scenes the country signed and implemented the UN Vienna convention as it tried to fight and prove its innocence on the money laundering allegations made on it.
After the September 11 2001 attacks, the US government investigated the Al-Rajhi one of the major banks in Saudi Arabia as a possible source of the terrorism. Due to the close relationship with the religion conservatives, the government has been reluctant to investigate it. However, the United States government was concerned with the close relationship between the bank and certain charities like the Al- Haramain which have been closely associated with terrorists groups.
The bank has since been issued with a subpoena in seeking records to deposits made by the Al-Haramain and has defied the orders and no or little assistance seems to be coming from the Saudi government.
The bank argues that the subpoena was not issued through the diplomatic channels and further claims that by complying, it would be violating the laws of Saudi Arabia. Though the diplomatic challenge may be in accordance what the bank fails to note is that Saudi Arabia is a member of an international convention that seeks to suppress money laundering and terrorism funding thus the country is required to cooperate with the United States investigations.
While the government and the bank try to hide pursuant to their agreement on the treaty they should forward the required information for prosecution of Al-Haramain this shows that despite the government of Saudi Arabia showing some effort in fighting money laundery when it comes to its major banks the country is reluctant to cooperate and this may post a negative image of the country.
How Saudi Banks Overcome Money Laundering
For money laundery to be contained in Saudi Arabia, all the major players in the financial sector must come together in the fight against this crime. The government, the Capital Market Authorities and the banks must join hands in the war against money laundering.
In the latest development the Capital Market Authority of Saudi Arabia issued new rules for combating money laundering and terrorism funding. The rules were aimed at ensuring there was full compliance among the financial bodies in the country and abide by the procedures and principles of fighting against this vice.
The rules were also aimed at maintaining the credibility and integrity of Saudi financial market and protect its customers from illegal operations that involve money laundering or the other illegal activities (Administrator, 2010).
Establishment of Financial Intelligence Unit
This financial intelligence unit was established in the year 2003 under the Anti-money Laundering Law and it is responsible for receiving and analyzing reports if forwarded to it. The unit is also required to prepare all reports forwarded in all suspicious transactions and operations from all financial and non financial institutions. Saudi Arabia FIU is also a member of the Middle East and North African Region (MENFATF) a regional body aimed at fighting money laundering.
Charities and their Activities
Several observers have complained that mixing of charitable work with terrorism is a cowardly act and it is misuse of trust dedicated to destruction. Thus, the allegations of charity groups being used to fund terrorism has made the Saudi banks introduce new banking regulations whereby the banks are prohibited from transmitting funds overseas which belongs to the charity groups in question until regulations have been put in place to investigate whether such funds are used for desired purposes.
The only exception was made to those charity groups that were collecting money in aid for Darfur victims in Southern Sudan and the Tsunami victims. The major shortcoming of these regulations were that they did not place restrictions on multilateral charitable organizations such as the Muslim World League among others which also raise funds among the people of Saudi Arabia and can be used by extremists for money laundering and terrorism funding activities.
There has been freezing and closure of many private charitable organizations some of which have been listed by the American government as being adversely involved in money laundering. More actions to counter money laundering on charity organizations have been going on and in the year 2004, King Fahd issued a royal decree and established the Saudi Nongovernmental Commission on Relief and Charity Work Abroad as the only channel through which private donations to the rest of the world would be made through.
This means that banks are not allowed to transfer funds outside the country being held by other private charitable organizations until the destination of the money is scrutinized and well known to the authorities (Prados & Blanchard, 2004).
Examples of the questionable charities dissolved include the AL-Haramain Islamic Foundation a charity associated with the royal family due to the fact that after investigations, one of its former employees was linked with the US embassy bombing of Tanzania in 1998. The company activities have been absorbed by the Non Governmental Commission for Relief and Charity Work Abroad.
To ensure the vice is curbed completely in some instances the Saudi government institutions have been delivering the money themselves to legitimate recipients; for instance, there were allegations that some organizations such as the Saudi Red Crescent Society used to raise and deliver money to the suicide bombers in Palestine.
The society no longer provides funds to the territories and any money going to the Palestinians are sent to the authority through official channels only. Muslim as a religion believes in giving particulary when visiting the mosque for prayers.
Though most of the times the donations given are meant for the poor there has been suspicions that the money may be finding its way to money laundering activites and the the government has urged those who collect the donations from the mosque ensure that the money is used for the right purposes and incase deposited in the bank accounts within the country the monbey cannot be transfeered to foreighn accounts withou the scrutiny of the government.
Another way to curb money laundering has been through limiting bank accounts (opened by charitable organizations) to one. The banks have also been barred from receiving or making any payments outside the country. The main aim being to allow the government have much control over the abilities of the different charities operation outside and within the country.
The banks have also been barred from giving charitable organizations ATM cards or credit cards so as to limit withdrawals from these accounts and only the beneficiaries or the signatories to the accounts can withdraw the money from the accounts and when withdrawing they should inform the authorities of the intended use. For any one foreign individual or body to open a bank account the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency (SAMA) is the only body with the mandate to approve the accounts and they should be opened only in Riyals.
These laws according to SAMA require banks not to transact any business with unidentified parties and that banks should maintain records of transactions for up to 10 years in order to know their customers well. The banks have also been given the power to establish intelligence units which investigate any suspicious transaction and also to cooperate with international money laundering issues to which the country has signed or is a member (Cunningham, 2004).
The Know Your Customers Rules
To enhance the fight against money laundering the Saudi Arabian banks have implemented the new rules “know your customer”; these rules require additional due diligence on the part of the bank to ensure there is availability of information concerning all accounts and transparency of all account holders.
The banks are supposed to know who their customers are and what they do to earn their money so that incase of any abnormal deposit or withdrawal which can raise suspicions to be related to money laundering, reports are made to the authority.
According to a press release in the internet, to ensure that all banks are following the know your customers rules, the Saudi Arabian authorities carries out regular inspections of banks to ensure compliance with the regulations where any violation or non compliance is a serious offence and if found, the bank is usually referred to the management and the board for further action.
Furthermore, there is also a permanent committee of banks compliance whose main function is to review the regulations and recommend improvements to the existing anti money laundery laws if any.
It is worthy noting that financial and non financial institutions can be exposed to money laundering if they do not know their customers well, the client source of wealth and the source of funds so as to be able to determine the patterns of transaction and the control structure of entities. The only problem with this policy is that it is prone to be corrupted or be influenced by those in power.
For example, the politicians and powerful people in the country can influence the procedure and the process of “Know Your Customer” and thus to prevent the misuse by such people who are commonly known as Politically Exposed Persons (PEPs), the Saudi Arabian authorities are required to conduct enhanced due diligence among its politically exposed persons so as to ensure their influence t the bank activities are minimal or are eliminated completely.
The banks are also required to follow the FATF recommendations which allow banks to stop relationship or conducting business with banking organizations known to have weak or poor “Know Your Customers” rules or banks with inadequate supervision and this has also enabled the Saudi banks to fight money laundery at least to some level.
Governing the Opening of Bank Accounts
The Saudi Banks have also been following the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency rules. In trying to protect the banks from money laundering, the SAMA issued rules which permit banks to open bank accounts for Saudi Arabian residents only.
Any foreigner who wants to open a bank account in the country must pass through SAMA and be scrutinized before being allowed to open a bank account. This has played a major role in reducing the chances of Saudi banks becoming exposed to money laundery as money launderers will avoid chances of being investigated and thus not open bank accounts in the country.
Freezing of Bank Accounts
In accordance to the resolutions of the UN Security Council, the Saudi government has also given its banks the authority to freeze bank accounts of those individuals and organizations suspected to be involved in money laundering. This has helped the banks control the influx of money launders in the country.
For example in the year 2002, the country blocked bank accounts linked to AL- Haramein Islamic Foundation and its branches through out the world after it was listed by the government of United States of America of being involved in money laundery processes in the same year the bank accounts of Wa’el Hamza an associate of Osama bin Laden who used to provide financial and logistical support to the Osama’s organization Al-Qaeda and other insurgent movements were also freezed (Freeh, 2002).
The Saudi government has taken further initiatives to stop these ongoing illegal activities and jointly with the United States, has freezed assets of more organizations suspected to be funding terrorism and they include Bosnia based Vazir and the branches of Haramein in Kenya, Tanzania, and Pakistan in additional to other branches which were closed earlier. The countries where these branches have been closed are required to take action against the officers and penalize them according to money laundering rules.
The following Saudi Arabia Money Agency guidelines allows the banks to be somehow protected from money laundery and if the banks follow these rules to the book chances of being involved in money laundery become less. The rules simply:
Instructs the banks to report any reasonable suspicion to the authorities.
Confirms banks obligations to provide relevant details and documents
Directs banks to establish procedures for cooperating with enforcement authorities through an internal Money Laundering Compliance Unit (MLCU)
Charges banks with formulating suspicious transaction reporting (STR) procedures to ensure that employees report suspicious transactions to the MLCU, and provides that notification of suspected ML/FT cases to the authorities does not conflict with bank secrecy and customer confidentiality regulations (Anonymous, A technical assessment of certain Saudi Arabia Laws, Regulations, and Institutions Not Dated p.73).
Under the above rules, it is an obligation to every bank to report to the FIU if there is actual knowledge or suspicion beyond doubt that a transaction or a proposed transaction involves the proceeds of a criminal act. This is referred to as Suspicious Transaction Report (STR) and the report is made to the authorities incase the banks knows, suspects or have proof beyond reasonable doubt to suspect that a transaction or a proposed transaction will involve proceeds from a criminal activity.
The Saudi Arabia authorities have also implemented the 40 recommendations of the financial Action Task force and also the G-8 recommendations to fight money laundering as was confirmed by the FATF task force which conducted a mutual evaluation of the country’s mechanism and found them to be in line the international standards due to the past successful prosecution in the country for those who were involved.
Also under the SAMA rules, the Saudi Banks have established supervisory committees which closely monitor any threats posed by terrorism and money laundering. The committee also coordinates efforts to freeze assets of the identified individuals or organizations. The committee is composed of senior bank officials who are in charge of money laundering units among other different departments. The committee meets regularly and in the presence of SAMA officials (Cunningham, 2004).
According to a report from the UN there are little activities associated to money laundering occuring in Saudi Arabia associated from the taditional arenas of drug and narcotic trafficking and if the country could put more effort in curbing money laundered to fund terrorist groups as it has shown by freezing bank accounts of indivinduals ans associations associated with money laundering more gainful results would be achieved and the country and world as a whole could live at peace with each other.
Much effort has been done and more needs to be done, the effort by the Saudi government and the Saudi banks has been significant and that’s why in the year 2010, the country was awarded with the first position among the Arab countries and 10th among the G20 countries in the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) report for her efforts to comply with the international resolutions on fighting money laundery and terrorism (Anonymous, Great Kashmir News, 2010).
Money laundering is a criminal activity that has been going on throughout the world for close to three decades. The crime has become so complex with the advancement in technologies that detections have become very difficult.
The ability of one to transfer own money electronically or even through a phone call has made the playground of money launderers quite smooth. The problem is not how money is transferred rather the process through which the money was earned through and what activities the money is intended to do once transferred.
With most of the money being used to fund illegal movements and for terrorism in future, it will demand everybody’s cooperation against this underworld vice. As we have noted this criminal activity is not in Saudi Arabia only, it occurs anywhere and everywhere and it will continue costing countries, businesses, and individuals billions thus it is a responsibility of every financial service provider to protect itself by enacting the required and necessary policies, procedures, and training to prevent and detect the crime from occurring.
The Saudi Arabia government, after allegations of being involved in money laundering, has enacted rules and regulations which has enabled its banks be less involved in money though some favourism can still be noted. The Saudi Arabian economy has been growing without tarnishing its reputation and thus it will call for other world countries to improvise rules and regulations which will enable them contain money laundering.
It is a crime we can all fight by ensuring accountability and transparency of our gains. Developing and strengthening regional groupings will always play a crucial role in prevention of money laundering. These movements usually have advocacy and mobilization roles to play and thus joining one and fighting together should be among the top priorities to the policy makers of countries intending to contain money laundering.
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