EU steps up controls on bitcoin, pre-paid cards to curb terrorist funds

BRUSSELS, Nov 20 (Reuters) - The European Union will increase controls on pre-paid cards, money remittances and bitcoin in a bid to curb terrorism funding after the attacks in Paris that killed 129 people.

EU interior and justice ministers agreed on Friday in Brussels to tighten checks on payment methods that may be conducted anonymously and might be used by terrorist organisations to finance attacks.

Ministers urged the European Commission, the EU Executive, to “strengthen controls of non-banking payment methods such as electronic/anonymous payments, money remittances, cash-carriers, virtual currencies, transfers of gold or precious metals and pre-paid cards in line with the risk they present”, they said in a joint statement at the end of the meeting.

They asked the Commission to present proposals on how to step up checks on these payment methods.

Money remittances and cash carriers, companies which offer a services transporting cash, were included in the final statement. They were not in an earlier version seen by Reuters. .

The final text also calls for more effective curbs on the illicit trade in cultural goods, a bid to clamp down on the sale of plundered art works. It also underlines the ministers’ commitment “to ensure a swift and effective freezing of terrorist assets throughout the Union.”

The European Commission is already conducting risk assessments on several payment methods that may be used for terrorism financing and money laundering.

“Among the sectors under assessment, the use of virtual currencies will be subject to particular attention,” a European Commission official said.

Bitcoin is the most common virtual currency and is used as a vehicle for moving money around the world quickly and sometimes anonymously via the web without the need for third-party verification.

Pre-paid cards include all payment cards that can be loaded with funds and used for the purchase of goods and services. (Reporting by Francesco Guarascio; editing by Anna Willard)