Europe throws out plan to blacklist Saudi Arabia for money laundering

Europe throws out plan to blacklist Saudi Arabia for money laundering
The statement is expected to be formally adopted by justice and home affairs ministers meeting on Thursday. (Shutterstock)
Updated 02 March 2019

Europe throws out plan to blacklist Saudi Arabia for money laundering

Europe throws out plan to blacklist Saudi Arabia for money laundering
  • EU members vote unanimously to reject proposal
  • Placing KSA on list ‘laughable,’ analyst tells Arab News

JEDDAH: Europe on Friday threw out plans to place Saudi Arabia on a blacklist of “high-risk” countries for terrorism financing and money laundering.

The blacklist was proposed in February by the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, but required majority approval by the bloc’s member states. All 28 voted unanimously to reject it.

“We cannot support the current proposal that was not established in a transparent and credible process,” the member states said.

The provisional list contained 23 states and territories, including four administered by the US — American Samoa, US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and Guam.

For the first time, the European Commission proposed different criteria from those used by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), which sets the global standard against money laundering. The FATF list is smaller, and includes Iran but not Saudi Arabia.

Under the new methodology, countries could be blacklisted if they do not provide sufficient information on company ownership or if their rules on reporting suspicious transactions or monitoring customers are considered too lax. 

Inclusion on the EU list would not trigger sanctions, but would require European banks to apply tighter controls on transactions with customers and institutions in those countries.

EU confirmation of the list proposed by the Commission would have caused damage in three areas, Salman Al-Ansari, founder of the Saudi American Public Relation Affairs Committee, told Arab News.

“First, it would have degraded the FATF,” he said. “Second, it would have harmed the EU’s reputation and made its lists politicized rather than authentic and legitimate.

“Third, it would have greatly damaged the EU’s financial interests with their biggest trading partner in the Middle East.”

Dr. Hamdan Al-Shehri, a Saudi political analyst and international relations scholar in Riyadh, said the Kingdom “should never have been put there in the first place.”

No other country had taken the steps Saudi Arabia had taken to counter terrorism, Al-Shehri said. “We have been in the forefront of fighting terrorism in myriad ways, including by cutting off financing. To put Saudi Arabia on that list is laughable.”

Countries “inimical to the interests of Saudi Arabia,” such as Iran and Qatar, were whipping up anti-Saudi hysteria in the West, he said. “They are not able to digest the fact that Saudi Arabia has emerged as a beacon of stability and a force for good in the Arab world and the Middle East. Europe and the rest of the world must not fall for such vicious propaganda and must see through the shenanigans of Qatar and Iran.”