Lebanon meets anti-money laundering conditions, financial watchdog


riad salamehLebanese Central Bank governor Riyad Salameh said Monday that the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has announced that Lebanon meets all the necessary conditions for fighting money laundering.

FATF, a 32-nation body established in 1989, sets standards and promotes effective implementation of legal, regulatory and operational measures for combating money laundering, terrorist financing and other related threats to the integrity of the international financial system.

FATF reported at a plenary meeting it held in Paris last week that Lebanon “meets legally and in practice all the required conditions to combat money laundering and terrorist financing,” Salameh told As Safir daily.

FATF called on government financial intelligence agencies to give extra scrutiny to transactions and business relationships involving Iran and North Korea.

It also welcomed efforts by Algeria, Angola and Panama to tighten their anti-money laundering precautions. But it said it still assessed that there are “strategic deficiencies” in the anti-money laundering efforts of Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Guyana, Iraq, Laos, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, Syria, Uganda, Vanuatu and Yemen.

Seven countries, including Lebanon, no longer needed follow up or new measures, it said.

According to Salameh the FATF statement, issued by its 199 member States, is a reassuring factor for Lebanon’s international banking and financial dealings, and for Lebanese banks’ customers, particularly the Lebanese diaspora, as it facilitates their incoming and outgoing transfers to and from Lebanon.

“This positive development results from the adoption of the required laws by the Lebanese Parliament and government in October 2015, and from the circulars issued by the Central Bank. As such, Lebanon shall stay integrated in the financial globalization, which positively impacts the economic situation,” the statement said.

FATF announcement is expected to relief the market and the banking sector in particular after it came under tremendous pressure from the United States government which has tightened its noose on the finances of Hezbollah, viewed by Washington as a terrorist organization.

U.S. action has caused wide debate among politicians and financial experts who all agreed that Lebanon has no choice but to abide by the new measure although the banks have been prudent in freezing the account of any person or group blacklisted by the Americans and Europeans.

A high-ranking parliamentary delegation is expected to visit Washington soon in a bid to discuss the ramification of the U.S. move on Lebanon and its economy.

Sources said that the MPs will try to find out if the U.S. measure also applies on the salaries of Hezbollah MPs and ministers.

The President of Association of Banks in Lebanon Joseph Torbey assured during a news conference Thursday that banks are keen to comply with all international resolutions pertaining to the fight against money laundering and terrorism financing.

He also repeated that there is no threat to Lebanon’s banking secrecy, noting that banking secrecy will only be lifted on illicit deposits and accounts of suspected people involved in money laundering and terrorism financing.