EU to boost border checks on cash, gold to tackle 'terrorism financing'

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Commission proposed tightening controls on cash and precious metals transfers from outside the EU on Wednesday, in a bid to shut down one route for funding of militant attacks on the continent.

European Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans addresses the European Parliament during a debate on the commission work Programme for 2017, in Strasbourg, France, October 25, 2016. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler

The move follows Monday’s attack on a Christmas market in Berlin, where 12 people were killed as a truck plowed into a crowd. It is part of an EU “action plan against terrorist financing” unveiled after the bombings and shootings in Paris in November 2015.

Under the new proposals, customs officials in European Union states can step up checks on cash and prepaid payment cards sent by post or in freight shipments.

Authorities will also be able to seize cash or precious metals carried by suspect individuals entering the EU.

People carrying more than 10,000 euros ($10,400) in cash already have to declare this at customs when entering the EU. The new rules would allow authorities to seize money below that threshold “where there are suspicions of criminal activity,” the EU executive commission said in a note.

EU officials said some of the recent attacks in Europe were carried out with limited funds, sometimes sent from outside the EU by criminal networks.

The Commission is also considering whether to set up an EU-focussed “terrorist finance tracking program” along the lines of the U.S.-EU TFTP, which has long been opposed by EU lawmakers and privacy campaigners because it allows widespread checks on consumers’ bank transfers.

“There are a lots of new ways of transferring money and not all of those are covered in the EU-US scheme,” security commissioner Julian King told a news conference in Brussels. He said the Commission will study the impact of a possible EU program and “report back by next summer.”

The Commission is also proposing common rules for the 28 EU countries on freezing “terrorists’ financial resources” and on confiscating assets even from those thought to be connected to criminals.

Brussels also wants EU states to apply minimum common rules on money laundering, to avoid criminals exploiting differences between different countries.

Security forces across the bloc would also be able to exchange information more effectively under a planned review of the European system for sharing information.

The proposals must be approved by EU states and the European Parliament to become law.

The plan complements Commission proposals after the Paris attacks to tighten controls on virtual currencies such as bitcoin, and prepaid cards, which French authorities said were used to fund the bombings.

EU states backed these proposals on Tuesday. Under the deal, which still needs European Parliament approval, holders of prepaid cards would have to show some form of identity when they make payments of 150 euros or more.

Editing by Hugh Lawson