| WASHINGTON, March 19
WASHINGTON, March 19 Russia's takeover of Crimea
and the ensuing East-West crisis have cast a cloud over a
meeting of top international anti-money laundering officials
scheduled to take place in Moscow in June.
The meeting of the Financial Action Task Force, bringing
together chiefs of government "financial intelligence units" set
up to spot and crack down on illicit financial transactions, is
slated to be held in Moscow from June 16 to 20.
For now, no plans appear to be in the works to cancel or
move the meeting. The world's seven leading industrial nations,
including the United States, have suspended plans to participate
in another meeting scheduled in Russia, the G8 summit that had
been due to take place in Sochi in July.
Because it is made up of law-enforcement and financial
officials, FATF and its members are supposed to operate above
national or international politics and avoid being influenced by
foreign policy developments.
However, some sources inside the organization are voicing
concern that given Russia's recent moves to annex Crimea from
Ukraine, holding a conclave of senior international anti-money
laundering investigators in Moscow would send the wrong
political and diplomatic signals.
One FATF source said that "many people" inside the group are
"not at all happy" with the notion of holding the meeting in
Moscow in light of recent events.
U.S. Treasury Department officials declined to comment on
the scheduled Moscow meeting. The State Department also had no
However, a senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of
anonymity, told Reuters: "It's safe to say that the immediate
future of cooperative meetings such as the FATF summit and the
G8 are under discussion."
Juan Zarate, a former Treasury and White House official
during the administration of President George W. Bush, wrote in
a recent book, "Treasury's War," that Russian President Vladimir
Putin had been keen on having Russia join FATF to demonstrate
its legitimacy in the international financial world.
Zarate now thinks the Moscow venue for the June meeting is
problematic. "This issue will create a thorny dilemma for the
Administration at a time when we are trying to isolate Russia
financially and may decide to target Russia with the taint of
illicit finance," he said via email.
Another former Treasury official who handled anti-money
laundering issues under Bush, Jimmy Gurule, said FATF member
states should not participate in the meeting.
"The invasion of Crimea is a blatant act of aggression, a
serious crime under international law. Russia should not be
rewarded for (Putin's) criminal acts by being permitted to host
a plenary session of FATF," said Gurule, now a law professor at
the University of Notre Dame in Indiana.
"The event should be boycotted by the FATF member states. At
a minimum, the Obama administration should prohibit the U.S.
delegate to FATF from traveling to Moscow and participating," he
Russia, once blacklisted by FATF for its lack of anti-money
laundering laws, later joined the organization. It holds FATF's
rotating chairmanship, which is why the June meeting is set for
Russia's anti-money laundering compliance record has
improved gradually since it joined FATF.
A 2008 FATF assessment found that Russia, while mostly in
line with the group's standards, needed to increase the number
of investigations and prosecutions for money laundering and
terrorism financing, and give supervisory authorities more power
to place sanctions on people who do not comply.
For example, at the time Russia did not prohibit criminal
ownership of financial institutions. Russia also needed to be
more transparent about who had a controlling interest in
companies and banks, and not allow people to open bank accounts
anonymously or with made-up names, the assessment found.
But in October, FATF determined that Russia had done enough
to improve its deficiencies, and regular follow-up was no longer
The U.S. government's financial intelligence unit is a U.S.
Treasury office called the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network,
It and other financial intelligence units police the
financial world by requiring financial institutions to routinely
notify them of relatively large, or potentially otherwise
(Editing by Warren Strobel and Mohammad Zargham)