Daily Star Sep. 19, 2021 | 01:32 PM
DUBAI: The United Arab Emirates central bank sees increased risks of illicit financial flows emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic, including money-laundering and terrorism financing, it said in a report published on Sunday.
The use of unlicensed money service providers for money laundering has increased during the coronavirus crisis last year, the report said, as well as the use of e-commerce to launder money.
"Widespread lockdowns have resulted in a significant surge in e-commerce. Due to limited ability to move funds and goods during the pandemic, illicit actors are turning to e-commerce as a money laundering tool", it said.
The number of so-called "money mules" - people who receive illicit funds into their bank accounts to hold or withdraw and wire elsewhere, taking a commission for their services - increased, the bank said, with accounts in the majority of cases belonging to low income individuals from Africa and Asia.
The bank identified fraud risks linked to the pandemic such as companies or individuals submitting false claims to qualify for government stimulus support measures.
"As we continue to monitor and learn more about the spread of COVID-19 in our communities, we have recently observed heightened external fraud threat, especially with cyber criminals exploiting both traditional and digital channels, to remotely perpetrate cyber-enabled fraud attacks at scale in a rapidly evolving environment", the bank also said.
The report comes as the central bank steps up efforts to combat illicit financial flows.
The Financial Action Task Force, an intergovernmental anti-money laundering monitor, said last year that "fundamental and major improvements" were needed to avoid it placing the UAE on its "grey list" of countries under increased monitoring.
Basel Institute on Governance - 13 September 2021
Released today, the 10th annual edition of the Basel AML Index raises grave questions about whether jurisdictions are serious about tackling their money laundering and terrorist financing (ML/TF) risks, and what is holding them back. The Basel AML Index is an independent annual ranking that assesses ML/TF threats around the world and the capacity of jurisdictions’ anti-money laundering and counter financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) measures to address their risks. The average global money laundering risk score increased from 5.22 to 5.3 out of 10, as assessed across all 110 jurisdictions in the 2021 Public Edition of the Basel AML Index. Even among jurisdictions whose risk scores improved this year, none managed to improve by even one point out of 10. Half of improvements were 0.3 of a point or less. What is holding jurisdictions back from effectively tackling their ML/TF risks and avoiding being the weak spot in regional and international financial systems? This year’s Basel AML Index report looks at four areas of AML/CFT policy that urgently need more attention.
1 – A STRONGER RESPONSE TO THREATS FROM VIRTUAL ASSETS
The use of virtual assets such as cryptocurrencies is exploding – for legitimate as well as illicit purposes. This year’s Basel AML Index report analyses data from the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) on how jurisdictions are responding to ML/TF threats related to virtual assets. The answer: not well at all. Most jurisdictions assessed or re-assessed in the last year have worsened their scores for technical compliance with FATF Recommendation 15 on virtual assets and virtual asset service providers. Average compliance levels have dropped by 10 percentage points globally.
2 – EFFECTIVE PREVENTION, NOT JUST ENFORCEMENT
Previous editions of the Basel AML Index have lamented that many jurisdictions have AML/CFT systems that are mostly compliant with FATF technical recommendations but are ineffective in practice. This year’s report looks at the distinction between compliance with technical recommendations vs effective implementation. Does the problem prevail for both prevention and enforcement? The analysis reveals that: • once again, jurisdictions score rather badly for effective implementation across the board; • the discrepancy between technical compliance and effective implementation is even worse in relation to prevention. These findings should ring an alarm bell for policy makers. Jurisdictions should invest more resources in the prevention of ML/TF, without reducing resources for enforcement.
3 – BENEFICIAL OWNERSHIP TRANSPARENCY
Beneficial ownership transparency is directly related to the effectiveness of a jurisdiction’s AML systems and the essential role of these systems in preventing, detecting, prosecuting and sanctioning financial crimes. The Basel AML Index report analyses the implementation of beneficial ownership registers around the world. It shows how slow and ineffective implementation of beneficial ownership transparency measures continues to provide safe havens for dirty money. This is damaging for individual jurisdictions, but more importantly undermines all global efforts to combat money laundering.
4 – ADDRESSING ML/TF VULNERABILITIES BEYOND THE FINANCIAL SECTOR
The final issue highlighted by the Basel AML Index data analysis is the generally weak application of AML/CFT preventive measures by lawyers, accountants, real estate agents and other designated non-financial businesses and professions non-financial entities (DNFBPs). This means that there is a significant risk that such businesses and professions remain open to abuse by criminals and corrupt individuals wishing to launder their money. Moreover, there is increasing concern among regulators that: • some DNFBPs are advising and assisting criminal clients with hiding and laundering illicit funds; • as some high-profile cases have shown, accountants are used as intermediaries to avoid scrutiny. At a minimum, more supervision over DNFBPs is urgently needed. Certain jurisdictions should also tighten their regulatory framework – and ensure that it is effectively enforced – over selected groups of DNFBPs in line with their risk exposure.
Regional deep dives For a second year, the report offers profiles of money laundering risks in different regions. Our regional infographics show how jurisdictions score in relation to each other – and in too many cases let their neighbours down. Policymakers should analyse their respective jurisdictions’ risks and make plans for serious reform. No jurisdiction is doing well. We call on all jurisdictions to step up their game.
For a full overview of results, analysis and interactive comparison tables, plus the opportunity to demo the Expert Edition, see our new Basel AML Index website: index.baselgovernance.org
Policy shift comes just a month after central bank issued warning against cryptocurrencies
Laos has authorised the mining and trading of cryptocurrencies, in a policy shift by the debt-laden south-east Asian nation that positions it to profit from the crackdown on digital currency mining in China. Analysts said the move was a logical step for the landlocked, communist-ruled country of 7m, which produces a surplus of hydroelectric power, but some warned that criminal gangs could seek to profit from the trade.
The crypto push marks an about-face after the country’s central bank last month warned banks, companies and people against using cryptocurrencies. The office of the prime minister this week said six companies, including construction groups and a bank, had been authorised to begin mining and trading cryptocurrencies such as bitcoin, ethereum and litecoin. Government ministries will now work with the Bank of Laos and Electricité du Laos, the national power utility, to regulate the industry, according to a report in The Laotian Times. The findings of the research and consultation are set to be discussed at a government meeting later this month.
The move into crypto comes as Laos contends with a loss of tourism revenues caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has also dented demand for hydropower, a cornerstone industry in a country that has borrowed heavily to build dams on the Mekong River and its tributaries. “However you cut it, Laos has an abundance of power generation capacity and it doesn’t have much internal demand for that power,” said David Tuck, a Bangkok-based partner with Lyriant Advisory, a business intelligence consultancy.
“And one of the key requirements for crypto mining is massive amounts of power.” The use of hydropower to mine crypto might allow Laos to pitch the industry as “carbon neutral”, at a time when the carbon footprint of cryptocurrencies is coming under growing international criticism, Tuck added.
Laos’s mountainous topography and distance from seaports have long stunted its development, prompting officials to back industries ranging from hydropower to casinos and a rail line running from Kunming, China, to Vientiane set to open in December. Its government has spoken of promoting mining projects as a source of revenue as it seeks to pay down the country’s almost $14bn debt pile. However, north-west Laos forms part of the Golden Triangle, the region bordering Myanmar and Thailand notorious for narcotics production and trafficking, which have surged during the pandemic.
Laos’s government has vowed to step up its efforts to fight money laundering recently, after coming under scrutiny from the Financial Action Task Force, the US and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. “You should always be concerned when countries with poor regulatory records start to get involved in things like cryptocurrency,” said Zachary Abuza, a professor at the National War College in Washington, specialising in south-east Asia. “To say that the Laotian financial system is immature would be a brutal understatement, and we have to be concerned if they are rushing into this.”
The US Treasury in 2018 placed sanctions on what it said was a transnational criminal organisation run largely out of a casino in Laos’s Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone, operated by Hong Kong-based Kings Romans Group. Washington said the network stretched throughout south-east Asia and was involved in “horrendous illicit activities”, including human trafficking, child prostitution and trafficking of drugs and wildlife.
AMMAN — The EU Global Facility on Anti Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) concluded their three-day training for prosecutors, judges and representatives from law enforcement agencies in Jordan.
Co-organised with the EU-funded project on Technical Assistance to the Criminal Justice Chain in Jordan, the event was held under the title “Developing Intelligence into Evidence: Training on Money Laundering and Financial Crimes Investigation Techniques for Prosecutors and LEAs”, said a statement from the facility.
“Seeing law enforcement representatives exchange dialogue so fruitfully with judges and prosecutors over the last few days was a huge success,” said David Hotte, the team leader of the EU Global Facility, in his closing remarks.
“Collaboration between all actors of the financial investigation and penal chain is crucial to any AML/CFT case. This type of dialogue needs to be promoted,” he added, thanking all attendees for their participation in the training.
Team leader of the project on Technical Assistance to the Criminal Justice Chain in Jordan, Malika Bouziane, highlighted the importance of such cross-agency events.
“Money laundering does not stop at any border. Platforms like this one, which allow for the exchange of information and improvement of communication channels, are essential,” Bouziane stressed.
The sessions were delivered by Prosecutor General Jean Franco Thony and former detective Liam Ennis. The sessions covered topics such as AML/CFT investigative and legal frameworks, prosecution techniques, as well as the best practices for international cooperation.
Deputy Chief of the Anti-Money Laundering Unit of Jordan Ala’ Bani Fawaz commended the Global Facility in Jordan’s comprehensive approach.
“Having colleagues from different sectors working on AML/CFT in one room is a great achievement. We have all learned a lot from our colleagues and hope to see this type of training replicated in the future,” Bani Fawaz said.
Since November 2020, the EU GF-AML/CFT has delivered 14 one-week e-training courses to over 230 participants. Topics covered AML/CFT investigations, terrorist financing, financial intelligence, virtual assets, Financial Intelligence Unit operational analysis work stream, Ultimate Beneficial Ownership and the judiciary, the statement said.
Authorities across 28 countries seize USD 7.9 million in cash.
LYON, France – While most of us were watching the UEFA European Football Championship as simple fans, hundreds of specialized officers across 28 countries were targeting organized crime groups looking to earn millions from illegal gambling and related money laundering activities.
INTERPOL’s Operation SOGA VIII (short for soccer gambling) led to thousands of raids and the arrest of some 1,400 suspects across Asia and Europe. Authorities seized USD 7.9 million in cash, as well as computers and mobile phones connected to nearly USD 465 million in bets.
Illegal gambling generates significant profits for organized crime networks and is often closely associated with other crimes such as money laundering and corruption. The operation was coordinated by INTERPOL’s Financial Crimes and Anti-Corruption units, with support from the Asia-Pacific Expert Group on Organized Crime (APEG) and the INTERPOL Match Fixing Task Force (IMFTF).
Hong Kong Police detained more than 800 suspects, including the alleged kingpin of a triad-controlled bookmaking syndicate, seizing nearly USD 2.7 million in cash and records detailing hundreds of millions in bets, making it one of their most successful operations against illegal gambling ever.
“Our collective experience helped us anticipate links between betting syndicates and their illegal counterparts during Euro 2020. This, ultimately, led us to organized crime groups acting on a global scale and generating huge profits,” said Wong Wai, Head of Hong Kong Police’s Organized Crime and Triad Bureau and Chairman of INTERPOL’s Asia-Pacific Expert Group on Organized Crime.
SOGA VIII saw its strongest participation by European countries, as well as a range of law enforcement agencies, in order to target illegal gambling from various angles.
“Italian authorities carried out a nationwide operation during Euro 2020, resulting in the inspection of 280 betting shops and EUR 1.3 million in sanctions for illegal betting operations. Such international operations are key to the collective fight against illegal betting, but also in developing national and international cooperation frameworks,” said Roberto Ribaudo, Director of Economic and Financial Crime Division at INTERPOL’s National Central Bureau in Rome.
Additionally, officers saw increased activity in online gaming platforms, forums and social media, where individuals would offer gambling tips or even payment to those willing to open online bank accounts for money transfers.
The operation was conducted under the aegis of Project Anti Cyber-Enabled Financial Crimes (CEFIN) funded by the Republic of Korea.
To date, INTERPOL’s eight SOGA operations have resulted in more than 19,100 arrests, seizures of more than USD 63 million in cash and the closure of more than 4,000 illegal gambling dens which handled more than USD 7.3 billion worth of bets.
Participating countries: Austria, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Belgium, Brunei, Cambodia, China, Croatia, Czech Republic, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, India, Ireland, Italy, Malaysia, Maldives, Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Singapore, Spain, Switzerland, United Kingdom, Vietnam.
Ukraine’s parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, has adopted a virtual asset bill legalizing and regulating cryptocurrency
According to a local report, Ukraine has passed a law that makes cryptocurrency and other digital assets legal in the country. Bill No. 3637 On Virtual Assets, gives Ukraine the ability to now legally regulate digital currency. According to the bill draft, “This Law regulates legal relations arising in connection with the turnover of virtual assets in Ukraine, defines the rights and obligations of participants in the virtual assets market, the principles of state policy in the field of virtual assets.”
Despite the win for crypto, they still can’t be used to pay for goods and services. It does, however, allow for blockchain companies to legalize individual business processes and work directly with the current banking system. Citizens can also freely buy and trade cryptos as things currently stand. The hryvnia remains the only legal currency.
Next steps for Ukraine
Before the bill passed, digital currencies have lived in a bit of a gray area in Ukraine. Neither legal nor illegal due to the lack of laws defining what a cryptocurrency is. The buying and selling of digital assets were done, but there was no legal protection from the courts if something went awry. The bill still has one final hurdle to jump before it officially becomes a law. It must be signed by President Volodymyr Zelensky.
Speaking with the Kyiv Post, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Digital Transformation said that Ukraine plans to open the cryptocurrency market for both businesses and investors by 2022. The spokesperson added that parliament still has to pass laws that amend the Tax Code and Civil Code before the market can be opened.
According to the bill, cryptocurrency-related businesses can work in Ukraine, but must meet a few prerequisites. Any crypto company looking to set up shop in Ukraine needs to have a stellar reputation and prove they can be transparent with officials. Additionally, a fee of $3,000 must be paid along with any taxes incurred during operation. Ukraine hopes these steps will keep money laundering and financial terrorism to a minimum.
If President Zelensky signs the bill into law, it will be the job of the Ministry of Digital Transformation, the National Bank of Ukraine, and the National Securities Commission to handle the enforcement of regulations according to the law. Ukraine has also stated its intention to create a new regulator to handle cryptocurrency companies looking for permits.
President Nayib Bukele has promoted the cryptocurrency as a path to financial freedom, but economic experts and many Salvadorans worry the move brings great risks.
MEXICO CITY — El Salvador on Tuesday became the first country to adopt Bitcoin as legal tender, allowing the cryptocurrency to be used in any transaction, from buying a cup of coffee to paying taxes.
The bold move, largely celebrated by the international bitcoin community, has found a more skeptical reception at home and in the traditional financial world, amid concerns that it could bring instability and unnecessary risk to the Central American country’s fragile economy.
President Nayib Bukele, a tech-savvy millennial, has promoted the digital currency’s adoption, pitching it as a way of bringing more Salvadorans, about 70 percent of whom don’t have bank accounts, into the formal economy. Using the cryptocurrency would make it faster and cheaper to get remittances from abroad, he argues, and could free the indebted nation from the hold of the traditional global financial system.
Making Bitcoin legal tender — alongside the dollar, which the country has relied on since 2001 — is also part of Mr. Bukele’s charm offensive toward crypto entrepreneurs, who often seem like his primary audience.
The country learned of the plan when Mr. Bukele announced it, in English, at a Bitcoin conference in Miami. Days later, while congress voted to approve the measure, the president chatted with American crypto enthusiasts on a social media hangout.
In El Salvador, many are viewing the move with confusion and distrust, afraid that the volatility inherent to using virtual tokens with no physical backing, which are apt to soar and crash in value, could be dangerous for the economy — and their own savings.
“We really don’t know how that system is going to work,” said Evelin Vásquez, 52, who sells mobile phones in San Salvador, the capital, and knows Bitcoin’s fluctuations in value could make her savings disappear.
“You can lose what you invest and not gain anything,” she added.
Financial analysts worry about having that instability ripple through an entire economy.
“Having that risky exchange rate volatility is what was trying to be avoided when El Salvador adopted the dollar,” said Jaime Reusche, of the rating service Moody’s, which downgraded El Salvador in July partly because of the Bitcoin law. “This clearly has no precedent.”
The development of Bitcoin and thousands of other cryptocurrencies in a little over a decade has changed the definition of money and is transforming financial services, leaving officials around the world scrambling to catch up.
El Salvador’s move puts it at the forefront of a revolution in finance on the blockchain, where a parallel universe of crypto-based alternative banking services is booming and eliciting alarm from officials in Washington and beyond.
It is unclear how it will all unfold.
The new law stipulates that all businesses must accept Bitcoin as payment. The government will also create a trust with $150 million dollars in public funds to facilitate dollar conversions, among other things.
To promote Bitcoin’s use, the government launched a digital wallet, called “Chivo,” which is Salvadoran slang for cool, and will pay a $30 Bitcoin bonus to citizens who download it. Salvadorans will also be able to withdraw funds in cash from 200 ATMs and 50 consulting centers across the country, according to Mr. Bukele.
But only about a third of Salvadorans use the internet, and almost a quarter live below the poverty line. Most have said they have little intention of using Bitcoin, according to a recent survey in La Prensa Gráfica newspaper.
The enthusiasm from abroad also rings hollow to some in El Salvador, who hear in it echoes of the financial colonialism that the global crypto movement claims to undermine.
“It seems that for them El Salvador is just a tool to promote their cryptocurrency,” said Tatiana Marroquín, a Salvadoran economist. “El Salvador isn’t just a means to an end — for us, El Salvador is the end.”
Even some Bitcoin advocates are wary, said Jerry Brito, of the crypto research group Coin Center in Washington: There are “obvious contradictions” to the official adoption by a national government of a currency designed to thwart governmental control over money.
International financial regulators have also voiced legal concerns. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, which is considering a separate financing deal with El Salvador, have said that adopting Bitcoin could leave a country open to money laundering and other illicit financial activity.
El Zonte, a seaside village in El Salvador, became a litmus test for the currency’s national adoption after an anonymous donor began seeding Bitcoin in the community in 2019. While acceptance of Bitcoin among residents has been mixed, some locals are adamant about the experiment’s success.
Naotoshi Yamasaki, a surfer, said Bitcoin ATMs can be quickly depleted of dollars, but overall the project has worked.
“We all use Bitcoin,” he said, even though there is awareness that with cryptocurrency, your money can “increase, just like it could go down.”
This volatility is one of many obstacles to applying the lessons from a sleepy beach town to a national financial system. Bitcoin price swings could challenge the government’s ability to meet conversion needs. And if the trust fund is liquidated, taxpayers may be left holding the bag, argues George Selgin, a monetary economist at the Cato Institute.
But crypto advocates say Bitcoin is just the first step into a bigger world of alternative financial services that could facilitate receiving remittances from abroad — which Salvadorans increasingly rely upon — and attract investors.
Matthew Sigel, head of digital assets research at the global asset management firm VanEck, has questions about how the government fund will operate but believes crypto can help El Salvador “shake off the yoke of dollar colonialism,” perhaps with creative investment vehicles that bypass traditional channels and Bitcoin mining operations that harness natural resources.
To many observers, the move is emblematic of Mr. Bukele’s tendency toward autocracy.
A charismatic young leader who wields social media to amass fans and spar with enemies, Mr. Bukele has increasingly used his grip on the country to concentrate power and silence opponents.
Last week, Mario Gómez, an outspoken critic of the Bitcoin law, was briefly detained without a warrant and had his cellphones seized by police.
“There is a deterioration in the freedom of the press and in freedom of expression,” said Otto Flores, a lawyer representing Mr. Gómez. “It’s worrying — you can’t deny it.”
A spokeswoman for the government declined a request for comment. The national police said on Twitter that Mr. Gómez is being investigated for “financial fraud.”
Mr. Bukele is firm in the face of criticism. “Salvadorans already know me and know that I would never do anything that was not for their benefit,” he said on Twitter in June.
And despite the widespread opposition to Bitcoin, the president himself maintains sky-high popularity, with 85 percent approval, according to a poll last week from La Prensa Gráfica.
With such support and an absolute control over the levers of power, it is unlikely that anything will halt Mr. Bukele’s plans — for Bitcoin or any other reforms.
“The regime has very powerful control,” said Noah Bullock, executive director of Cristosal, a human rights organization. “He is everything.”
Boosting police cooperation and security in 25 Caribbean countries and territories
INTERPOL and the Government of Barbados have signed an agreement to open an INTERPOL liaison office aimed at strengthening Caribbean police cooperation and security.
Representing INTERPOL’s Secretary General, The Executive Director of INTERPOL Police Services Stephen Kavanagh signed the Host Country Agreement with Barbados’ Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Jerome Xavier Walcott on 1 September 2021.
The new office will be housed by CARICOM’s Implementation Agency for Crime and Security (IMPACS) at its Barbados-based Joint Regional Communications Centre (JRCC) in St Michael, and will serve CARICOM and the wider Caribbean.
The objective is to nurture police cooperation between each of the 25 Caribbean countries and territories and increase their use of INTERPOL policing capabilities in their national and regional investigations,
Officers seconded by a range of Caribbean Police forces, Intelligence agencies, Immigration, Customs and Defence Forces will staff the new liaison office and deliver INTERPOL operational support throughout the region, with a particular focus on capacity building and police operations.
Tailored to Caribbean needs
One of the fundamental aims of the liaison office is to provide the region with hands-on access to the police services required to tackle regional crime from a global angle.
It will deliver training courses across the region to ensure law enforcement is able to use INTERPOL’s global criminal databases and capabilities to their full capacity throughout investigations and border‐management operations.
With the Caribbean an archipelago of 7,000 often isolated islands located at the crossroads between the Americas, Europe and Africa, the liaison office will help countries work together across maritime and land borders in coordinating regional police operations.
“INTERPOL is honoured that CARICOM has provided us with this unique opportunity to support the Caribbean in its efforts to target transnational organized crime, protect its vulnerable communities, secure its cyber space and anticipate the threat of terrorism,” said INTERPOL’s Executive Director for Police Services
“The international characteristics of these crime areas and their links with organized crime groups around the world make the role of INTERPOL’s new liaison office in the Caribbean fundamental to maintaining national, regional and indeed global security,” added Mr Kavanagh.
CARICOM-IMPACS Executive Director Michael Jones stated that “this is a historic moment for CARICOM and the wider Caribbean. We have shared threats and challenges. The placement of this office in the Caribbean will certainly boost capacity in crime fighting and enhance already existing cooperative arrangements.”
INTERPOL’s Executive Director for Police Services also met with the Barbados Attorney General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Dale Marshall, and Wilfred Abrahams, Minister of Home Affairs, Information and Public Affairs, as well as Police Commissioner Tyrone Griffith and senior police leadership.
The new liaison office will support law enforcement in Anguilla (UK), Antigua & Barbuda , Aruba, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Bermuda (UK), British Virgin Islands (UK), Cayman Islands (UK), Cuba, Curaçao, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Montserrat (UK), Sint Maarten, St Kitts & Nevis, St Lucia , St Vincent & the Grenadines, Suriname, Trinidad & Tobago and Turks and Caicos (UK).
INTERPOL, August 30, 2021
“We are stronger than those who sow pain and division,” the INTERPOL Chief said.
LYON, France: Accompanying a joint statement issued by the Global Coalition to Defeat Daesh/ISIS today, INTERPOL Secretary General Jürgen Stock condemned the recent attack in Kabul, Afghanistan and reaffirmed INTERPOL’s commitment to combating the terrorist group.
The INTERPOL Chief said: “Attacks targeting defenseless civilians and those dedicated to helping them underline more than ever our continued imperative to combat ISIS.”
INTERPOL is the law enforcement partner of the Global Coalition to Defeat Daesh/ISIS, which unites 83 members. Since the creation of the Coalition in 2014, information on ISIS affiliates shared via INTERPOL has grown by 50 times.
The full text of the Secretary General’s video follows below (on website).
INTERPOL stands with other members of the Global Coalition to Defeat Daesh/ISIS in condemning the appalling terrorist attacks that occurred in Kabul on August 26 which claimed so many lives.
Law enforcement plays a critical role in preventing terrorist attacks and bringing perpetrators to justice. INTERPOL has worked with law enforcement in Afghanistan to counter terrorist groups such as ISIS as well as on other crime areas such as drug trafficking.
INTERPOL continues to dedicate resources to monitoring the situation on the ground, and is working with global law enforcement and our member countries in the region.
We will continue to combat ISIS and other terrorist groups alongside our partners. We are stronger than those who sow pain and division and will continue to fight and defeat them, together.
SEPTEMBER 1, 2021 / 8:47 PM / CBS NEWS
Ahead of Labor Day weekend, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security's cyber arm urged companies and organizations to remain on alert for ransomware attacks. The alert follows a string of high-profile cyber incidents landing on holidays.
In a joint advisory, the FBI and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) said they "observed an increase in highly impactful ransomware attacks occurring on holidays and weekends — when offices are normally closed — in the United States, as recently as the Fourth of July holiday in 2021."
Earlier this year, an affiliate of the "REvil" cyber gang targeted software company Kaseya at the start of the July 4 holiday weekend, leading to the single largest ransomware attack to date.
The Russian-linked cyber criminals first gained notoriety after launching an attack on JBS meat processor during Memorial Day weekend, extorting the company for $11 million in ransom.
And just before Mother's Day weekend, Colonial Pipeline paid a $4.4 million ransom to the DarkSide group after being forced to shut down its operations. Its pipeline, stretching from Texas to the Northeast, delivers 45% of all fuel consumed on the East Coast. The FBI later recovered $2.3 million of the ransom from DarkSide, a Russia-based hacking group that used malicious software to hold the company hostage.
After the Colonial Pipeline incident, the TSA mandated pipeline owners and operators designate "a 24/7, always available cybersecurity coordinator" – like a chief security officer – to coordinate with both TSA and CISA in the event of a cyber incident during a weekend or holiday. But there are no such requirements for a slew of critical infrastructure sectors including dams, public health and agriculture.
According to Tuesday's joint advisory, the following ransomware gangs have been reported to the FBI most frequently in the past month:
The agencies recommend companies practice basic cyber hygiene to protect their networks, including: creating an offline backup of data, avoiding clicking on suspicious links, updating software and using strong passwords and multi-factor authentication.
"Cybercriminals have a long history of launching cyberattacks over long weekends, holidays and events like the Super Bowl," said Tom Kellermann, head of Cybersecurity Strategy at VMware. "They are well aware of skeleton crews that are tasked to defend during these periods and how response times will be extended. Organizations must prepare in advance by implementing proactive threat hunting, as recommended by CISA."
Last week, President Biden demanded chief executives of some of the largest technology companies in the U.S. – including Google, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft and IBM – do more to safeguard against cybersecurity threats.
The warning followed Mr. Biden's summit with Russian President Putin in June, soliciting a crack down on ransomware groups housed within Russian borders.
-The Bank for International Settlements (BIS) Innovation Hub Hong Kong Centre and the Hong Kong Monetary Authority joined forces with the tech industry.
-Aim is to build a prototype digital infrastructure that can enable green investments and help issuers and governments to meet environmental and sustainability goals.
-Work is guided by a panel of experts from public and private sector, civil society, and international community.
In many countries, issuing and investing in bonds can be cumbersome and complex, involving many steps and parties, and typically requiring a considerable financial commitment from the investor. For those investing in environmentally friendly projects, there is uncertainty about whether the bond issuer is delivering the positive green impact it committed to at issuance. Also, there are typically no liquid and transparent secondary markets for retail investors.
The Bank for International Settlements (BIS) Innovation Hub Hong Kong Centre and the Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA) joined forces with the technology industry on Project Genesis to build a prototype digital infrastructure that enables green investments, improves transparency on the use of proceeds, and thereby helps meet regional and global environmental and sustainability goals.
“Green and digital are not only interconnected but interdependent - the fate of one depends on the other. Green finance, accordingly, is a key priority of the BIS Innovation Hub and Genesis is an integral part of that.” Benoît Cœuré, Head of the BIS Innovation Hub
The BIS Innovation Hub's first green finance project, Genesis will explore the tokenisation of green bonds enabling investment in small denominations, combined with real-time tracking of environmental outputs.
“The HKMA welcomes the collaboration with BIS Innovation Hub on this novel experimentation on the symbiosis of sustainability and tech. Technologies such as blockchain and smart contracts, combined with the internet-of-things, could streamline the bond issuance process, improve efficiency in distribution and facilitate reporting on the use and environmental impact of green bonds proceeds, thus enhancing transparency to green bond investors.” Edmond Lau, Deputy Chief Executive of the HKMA
Genesis will be developed together with six partner companies that will design the digital infrastructure. Targeting the full bond lifecycle, Digital Asset (Switzerland) and their partner GFT Technologies Hong Kong will deploy multiple permissioned blockchains. Concurrently, the Liberty Consortium, consisting of SC Ventures, Standard Chartered Bank and Shareable Asset, will be leveraging a public permissionless blockchain infrastructure. Allinfra, a Hong Kong SAR startup, will provide technology verified data that can track in real-time the positive environmental impact of projects.
“Our vision is that you can download an app to your phone, and invest any amount into safe government bonds, which will develop a green project – let's say a solar or wind farm. Over the bond's lifetime, you would be able to not just see accrued interest, but also track in real time how much clean energy is being generated, and the consequent reduction in CO2 emissions linked to your individual investment. Further, you could sell the bonds in a transparent market.” Bénédicte Nolens, Head of the BIS Innovation Hub Hong Kong Centre
With Genesis, the BIS Innovation Hub seeks to show the green art of the possible through combining blockchain, smart contracts, internet-of-things, and digital assets. The prototypes will allow policy makers and stakeholders to explore innovative approaches to green bond distribution and transparency. After starting with design thinking workshops, the development teams are now working in iterative sprints to build the prototypes, collaborating with key stakeholders in the Hong Kong financial ecosystem.
In consonance with the take-away from the BIS Green Swan research report that climate change involves complex collective action problems that require increased coordination among governments, private sector, civil society and international community, Genesis is guided by a multi-disciplinary panel of experts in environmental, social and governance (ESG) considerations, green finance, bond markets, law and regulation. The results of the tests and prototypes will be published in the fourth quarter of 2021.
INTERPOL response teams provided support to French law enforcement in operations that saw 37 arrests and more than EUR 380,000 in illicit funds seized
In April 2019, a meeting took place in Salzburg, Austria between INTERPOL and the French Gendarmerie’s Central Office for Fighting Itinerant Criminality (OCLDI). The subject: full operational cooperation in cases involving the criminal Eurasian brotherhood known as “Thieves in Law”.
“Thieves in Law” or “Thieves professing the code” are often at the top of the criminal hierarchy, with influence and control that extends across groups committing drug trafficking, extortion, contract murder and money laundering. Russian speaking, the organized criminals come from a variety of countries, including Armenia, Georgia, Russia and Ukraine.
Like other mafia-style organizations, the ‘Thieves in Law’ pollute economies around the world by investing the proceeds of their criminal activities into legitimate funds and businesses – extending their leverage in a given sector. Contributing to a common criminal fund worth billions, and managed by the most influential and high-ranking members, known as the “Obshak”, they invest in shares, real estate and companies.
300,000 euros in cash
INTERPOL’s Project Millennium works to give law enforcement worldwide the intelligence and support needed to combat Eurasian organized crime.
In early 2021, INTERPOL’s Project Millennium team began working closely with the French OCLDI on an operation targeting a Thieves in Law group, exchanging information and expertise. The cooperation culminated in a day of simultaneous crackdowns in Lyon, Nancy and Paris last April in which law enforcement arrested 25 suspects, including one of Project Millennium’s high value targets.
The operation also allowed police to seizure luxury vehicles, over EUR 300,000 in cash and different bank accounts, as well as documents detailing an “Obshak”, or Russian criminal fund. In one of the apartments raided, police found a Vory artefact decorated with criminal symbols and bearing the message “For the Thieve – May God bless you”.
INTERPOL provided operational support throughout the operation in the form of an INTERPOL Support Team (IST), in which specialized personnel from the INTERPOL General Secretariat are deployed on the request of a member country.
Two clan heads arrested
Shortly after the April operation, the French authorities requested an INTERPOL Response Team (IRT) during another crackdown against Georgian and Armenian gangs – this time in France’s Northeastern (Grand Est) region.
Back in 2019, French police had broken up a highly organized Georgian gang responsible for more than 200 robberies. In the investigations around the gang, all roads led to the Vory-v-Zakone, a Thieves in Law-style organization led by a chief, or Vor, based in Strasbourg. Over the next two years, French investigators pieced together the structure and activities of the organization – both of which were shifting due to the pandemic.
On 21 June 2021, more than 100 French officers – supported by INTERPOL’s Project Millennium IRT – launched a series of coordinated raids in Strasbourg and Nancy. The heads of two different Thieves in Law clans – one Georgian and the other Armenian – were arrested along with 10 other individuals.
The raids saw police seize vehicles, handguns, stocks of illicit cigarettes, alcohol and perfume as well as more than EUR 17,000 in cash. Arrest warrants were issued for several individuals who had fled.
“The cooperation between the French Gendarmerie and INTERPOL is a true added value in criminal cases involving Thieves in Law,” said Guillaume Bourez, Head of the International Investigations group at the OCLDI.
“Organized crime groups like the Thieves in Law operate across national borders, which means that any effective police action must also be international in scope,” said José de Gracia, Assistant Director, Criminal Networks at INTERPOL. “With Project Millennium, INTERPOL stands ready to offer our expertise and support any member country in their efforts to dismantle the criminal web of Eurasian organized crime with real-time access to our dedicated crime file and global databases,” Mr. de Gracia added.
Since 2015, INTERPOL’s Project Millennium team has actively participated in 13 national police operations against Eurasian organized crime groups, taking place in countries such as France, Italy, Portugal and Spain.
Arrests follow a three-year investigation supported by INTERPOL and UNODC
LYON, France – A three-year investigation has concluded with police in Colombia arresting six individuals believed to be behind the trafficking and sexual exploitation of Colombian and Venezuelan women.
The criminal group was first identified in 2018 by Panama’s Human Trafficking and Smuggling of Migrants Division, following the discovery of several victims who had been promised jobs as waitresses, only to have their passports confiscated and be exploited. They were often denied food, slept on the floor and would regularly see their so-called “debts” for “travel and accommodation” increase arbitrarily.
The women, who were taken into protective care, all came from vulnerable backgrounds and had been recruited by a network operating out of Cúcuta, one of Colombia’s busiest border cities, located on the Colombian-Venezuelan border.
Fast forward to 2020, when global trafficking and smuggling specialists gathered to debrief the results of INTERPOL’s Operation Turquesa I. With the right people in the right place, Panama shared intelligence with Colombia, INTERPOL’s Human Trafficking and Smuggling of Migrants (HTSM) unit, as well as specialized prosecutors from REDTRAM, the Ibero-American network of public prosecutors.
When the suspected head of the criminal network relocated to Colombia, the country’s national police took the investigative lead, focusing on the group’s activities in Cúcuta.
INTERPOL and the UNODC played a critical role in supporting the investigation by facilitating intelligence exchange, coordinating police and judicial actions including victim hearings. The hearings played a major role in securing crucial evidence for the investigation.
INTERPOL also issued Blue Notices, which enabled law enforcement to seek additional information on the individuals.
On 6 August, Colombia’s national police swept in, arresting the group’s leader, a 42 year old Colombian woman, as well as three women and two men. Several passports, identity cards and financial transfer documents were also seized.
Investigations are ongoing and authorities are assessing the total number of victims exploited by this network. INTERPOL will continue to support the investigation, particularly by enlisting the help of its Financial Crimes unit to identify money flows. UNODC will continue providing support to specialized prosecutors involved in the case trough REDTRAM.
Red Notice subjects were linked to Camorra
LYON, France – INTERPOL’s global network has helped secure the arrest of two high-profile members of the Camorra organized crime group.
Raffaele Imperiale, 46, was arrested by the Dubai Police on 30 July on the basis of an INTERPOL Red Notice. Considered one of Italy’s most dangerous fugitives, he has been wanted since 2016 on charges relating to drug trafficking and organized crime.
The second arrest came on 14 August, when Dubai Police apprehended Raffaele Mauriello, 31. He was the subject of two INTERPOL Red Notices, issued in accordance with arrest warrants for two separate murders.
“No matter how much wealth or power fugitives accumulate, or how far they travel, police work does not stop. Cases such as this underline the power of international police cooperation via INTERPOL’s global network more than ever,” said Secretary General Jürgen Stock, welcoming the arrests.
The suspects are being held in the United Arab Emirates while extradition proceedings are completed.
CAIRO, Aug 22 (Reuters) - Dubai has established a specialised court focused on combating money laundering, in a move to "strengthen the integrity of the financial system", the emirate's media office said on Sunday.
The UAE, home to the Middle East financial hub Dubai, has worked over the last few years to overcome a perception it is a hot spot for illicit money. In February the government created an Executive Office for Anti-Money Laundering and Counter Terrorism Financing.
"The establishment of the court is aimed at further raising the UAE's and Dubai's global competitiveness by reinforcing the rule of law and upholding the values of justice and transparency," the media office said.
The central bank of Estonia has discovered what it describes as ‘unlimited potential’ in its blockchain based digital euro trials, after discovering that blockchain tech can ‘in theory’ support almost unlimited scale in transaction throughput.
Following an experiment conducted in collaboration with several other local central banks inside the euro area, Eesti Pank announced it had discovered a “novel blockchain-based solution could in theory support almost unlimited numbers of payments being processed at the same time.”
Working in partnership with counterparts in Spain, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Greece, Latvia and Ireland, the experiment was powered by the same blockchain technology as its e-Estonia digital society scheme, which uses the technology to increasingly digitize dealings between the state and its citizens.
As part of the experiment, participants sent payments across borders between the test countries, using their digital identities in order to facilitate the transactions. The study found that transaction volumes of almost 300,000 transactions per second were possible, with payments settling in as little as 2 seconds.
The executive summary, published by Eesti Pank, did not mention which blockchain they used for the digital euro trials, although it noted that “the CBDC system evaluated combined an existing blockchain-based platform with novel architecture for money and payments, instantiating value in digital bills, which are fixed-value tokenised representations of banknotes that represent the liabilities of the central bank.”
The trial focused on three areas: the blockchain’s scalability as a possible infrastructure for a digital euro; how the blockchain can be combined with the existing digital ID and digital signature systems for user authentication and authorization in remote transactions; and how different degrees of privacy can be afforded to different parties under various deployment models and in compliance with anti-money laundering (AML) and counter-terrorism financing (CTF) regulations.
A spokesperson for Eesti Pank said this demonstrates that blockchain tech could handle all euro transaction volumes comfortably, removing any artificial limits on its money supply: “This technology does not set any essential limits on the size of the money supply. The system is able to handle the entire supply of euros in circulation and more.”
The development follows on from the announcement by the European Central Bank earlier this month that it was actively investigating developing a digital euro, in a scheme that is set to run for a period of 24 months.
The news means Europe is a step closer to a formal rollout of a central bank digital currency, at a time when increasing numbers of central banks worldwide are exploring the technology.
Singapore’s central bank is in the final stages of reviewing applications for licenses to provide crypto services, including payments and the operation of cryptocurrency exchanges, according to Tharman Shanmugaratnam, minister in charge of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), which regulates financial institutions in Singapore.
-To date, Singapore has received over 480 crypto service license applications under the Payment Services Act, which came into effect in January 2020, said Shanmugaratnam yesterday in a written reply to a parlimentary question. Of these, around 170 applicants — or 35% — have applied to provide DPT services 170 applications for a license to provide digital payment token (DPT) services.
-No crypto license has been issued to DPT providers in Singapore to date. DPT service providers such as cryptocurrency exchanges Binance Asia Services, Coinbase Singapore and Gemini currently operate in Singapore with an exemption from holding a licence under the Payment Services Act. The exemption is in force until applications are approved or rejected by MAS, or withdrawn by the applicant.
-Thirty DPT applications were withdrawn following engagement with the Singapore authority and two were rejected, Shanmugaratnam said.
-“MAS closely scrutinises all applications and considers various factors. These include the applicant’s understanding of risks relating to money laundering and financing of terrorism (“ML/TF”) and the technology risks posed by their business model, as well as the adequacy of controls instituted to mitigate such risks,” Shanmugaratnam said. “We will reject applicants who fail to meet the required standards for ML/TF and technology risks set out in MAS’ regulations and notices.”
Khmer Times – Cambodia
The government has reached an agreement with the central bank to share information in a quest to eliminate the funding of criminal activity from farming spawned revenue. Criminal activity cited ranged from money laundering to the funding of terrorism.
The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) and the central bank’s Financial Intelligence Unit signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to exchange information related to the problem. Agriculture Minister Veng Sokhon and Ouk Maly, deputy governor of the National Bank of Cambodia attended the signing ceremony.
Mali said the MOU comes into effect immediately and cooperation between the two institutions will be starting straight away. Sakhon said the MOU will establish a framework for cooperation between the two institutions, adding it would allow them to examine counter-terrorism financing data from the agricultural sector. That information covers forest and fishery crime as well as other activities thought to be related to money laundering or terrorist financing.
Sakhon said officials would be able to monitor and control the activities of terrorists and money launderers and move quickly to stop them. He added that the agreement would provide an opportunity for officials to receive additional training on financial intelligence, accurate information sharing, money laundering and terrorist financing. The minister noted that the MOU established a mechanism to manage crises and risks that may occur in the financial and agriculture sectors.
The MOU will help ease concerns raised by the Asia Pacific Group on Money Laundering. That autonomous group’s members include the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the OECD, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and the Asian Development Bank.
A 2017 report on Cambodia said authorities here have made minimal use of financial intelligence in investigating money laundering (ML) and terrorist financing (TF).
“While Cambodia’s legal system provides a broad set of powers and responsibilities for law enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute ML offences, there is no policy or practice of ‘follow the money’ [strategy] to identify and investigate ML,” the report said.
Its authors did say that Cambodia had a good legal framework to combat TF and had allocated substantial resources to combating terrorism and its financing.
With the support of Europol, the Spanish Civil Guard (Guardia Civil) and Tax Agency (Agencia Tributaria), in cooperation with the Portuguese Judicial Police (Polícia Judiciária) have dismantled an organised crime network involved in large-scale drugs trafficking, arresting eight of its members. These criminals were about to smuggle 15 tonnes of hashish into Spain when they were arrested.
The investigation began at the end of last year after the Spanish investigators uncovered an organised crime group smuggling hashish from Morroco to Spain using different types of vessels. Europol’s European Financial and Economic Crime Centre (EFECC) assisted with the analysis of the criminals’ financial transactions, mapping out the full network spread out across Spain and Portugal.
The investigation quickly focused on one particular vessel – known as the SEEFUCHS acquired by the criminal group in November 2020. The vessel was moved by the criminals to the Portuguese town of Portimao, where they changed its colour and increased its storage capacity.
In June of this year, the SEEFUCHS set sail to Morocco, under close surveillance from law enforcement. Once the drugs were loaded onto the vessel, the criminals sailed back towards the Gibraltar Strait. The vessel was stormed by Spanish law enforcement some 100 nautical miles south of the Spanish coast.
During the assault, five individuals were arrested and 15 tonnes of hashish seized in the boat’s cargo. Five house searches were carried out simultaneously across Spain, resulting in the arrest of three other members of this same gang, together with the seizure of €60 000 in cash. A luxury yacht which was also used for drugs transportation was seized in Lanzarote.
A Europol specialist was deployed to Spain during the action day to support the authorities with the cross-checking in real time of operational information gathered during the raids carried out on that day.
This operation was carried out in the framework of the European Multidisciplinary Platform Against Criminal Threats (EMPACT).
LYON, France – INTERPOL has issued a global alert for organized crime groups attempting to defraud governments with fake offers to sell COVID-19 vaccines.
The warning follows some 60 cases in 40 countries around the world where individuals in health ministries and hospitals have received offers for COVID-19 vaccines approved for distribution in their country.
Usually claiming to represent a vaccine manufacturer or a government agency facilitating the distribution of vaccines, the scammers are targeting both professional and personal email accounts of potential buyers, as well as making contact via phone.
The INTERPOL alert, issued to all 194 member countries, is based on information provided by vaccine manufacturers and highlights the types used in the attempted scams, including the use of fake social media accounts and websites. INTERPOL Secretary General Jürgen Stock said the alert underlined the importance of public/private sector cooperation.
“As we see with cybercrime, usually it is the private sector which has the most information about attacks and trends, which is exactly what has happened with these attempted vaccine scams. “Even when a fraud fails, it is important that it is reported to the police so that potential links can be identified and also, as in the case of the alert INTERPOL has issued, to warn law enforcement about these threats.
“With the ongoing pandemic and efforts of countries to safely and quickly vaccinate their citizens, it is vital that the roll-out process is protected from manufacture to delivery,” concluded Secretary General Stock.
Issued under the umbrella of the INTERPOL Global Financial Crime Task Force (IGFCTF), the alert is the most recent in a series of warnings issued in relation to COVID-related crime threats.
Criminals have exploited every stage of the pandemic. From creating websites and social media accounts claiming to sell protective equipment and medical supplies to the manufacture and distribution of fake vaccines as well as ransomware attacks on critical infrastructure.
Launched in 2020, the IGFCTF is aimed at enhancing international cooperation and innovation between the public and private sector with a focus on cyber-enabled fraud, money laundering schemes and COVID-related crimes.
This latest alert follows the joint INTERPOL and the United States's Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) warning to the public against purchasing alleged COVID-19 vaccines and treatments online earlier this year.
To support the Organization’s call for members of the public to ‘be vigilant, be skeptical, be safe’, INTERPOL has published guidelines on how people can protect both their personal and online security.