Bahrain brings charges in vast money laundering case linked to Iranian state-owned banks

The bank at the center of the allegations was set up and controlled by Iran’s Bank Saderat and Bank Melli. (Shutterstock)
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Updated 13 February 2020

Bahrain brings charges in vast money laundering case linked to Iranian state-owned banks

  • Billions of dollars were funneled through Future Bank, which was controlled by Iran’s Bank Saderat and Bank Melli
  • Operation allowed Iranian organizations, including some sanctioned for terror financing, to secretly move money internationally,

DUBAI: Bahrain launched legal proceedings on Thursday against a number of individuals and businesses involved in a vast money laundering scheme linked to state-owned Iranian banks.

The operation allowed Iranian organizations, including some sanctioned for terror financing, to secretly move money internationally, the Kingdom’s prosecutors said. 

Billions of dollars were funneled through Future Bank, which was based in Bahrain but set up and controlled by Iran’s Bank Saderat and Bank Melli.

The defendants are charged with multiple offences under Bahrain’s anti-money laundering  and banking laws, the state Bahrain News Agency reported.

Future Bank, which was shut down in 2016, engaged in “systemic and wide scale violations of Bahrain’s banking laws,” the Central Bank of Bahrain (CBB) said, referring to a 2018 report.

Further investigations found the bank, acting under the direction of Bank Saderat and Bank Melli, to have executed thousands of international financial transactions worth $7 billion while concealing the involvement of Iranian entities. 

Staff deliberately removed information when transferring money via the SWIFT network – an illicit practice referred to as “wire stripping”. 

Another technique involved a covert messaging service as an alternative to SWIFT, which concealed transactions from Bahraini regulators.

The years-long investigation by the CBB, the Ministry of Interior, and international regulatory experts, reviewed tens of thousands of Future Bank documents.

Rasheed Al-Maraj, the CBB governor said the complexity and magnitude of the investigations were compounded by the need to disentangle the subterfuge of Iranian-backed financing of terrorism.

“Bahrain is committed to full implementation of international standards in combatting money laundering and the financing of terrorism,” he said. “Investigating and prosecuting violations is an essential part of protecting the integrity of the international financial system.”

Bahrain’s public prosecution has referred the cases to Bahrain’s High Criminal Court, with further charges expected as investigations continue into thousands of remaining transactions.


‘We want to breathe, too’: Solidarity from Iraq

A mask-clad young Iraqi woman speaks to another during an anti-government demonstration in the southern Iraqi city of Basra, despite the ongoing threat of the novel coronavirus. (AFP)
Updated 07 June 2020

‘We want to breathe, too’: Solidarity from Iraq

  • Violence left more than 550 people dead, but virtually no one has been held accountable — mirroring a lack of accountability over deaths at the hands of security forces in the US, Iraqis say

BAGHDAD: Seventeen years after US troops invaded their country and eight months since protests engulfed their cities, Iraqis are sending solidarity, warnings and advice to demonstrators across America.
Whether in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square or on Twitter, Iraqis are closely watching the unprecedented street protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died in Minneapolis as a police officer knelt on his neck.
“I think what the Americans are doing is brave and they should be angry, but rioting is not the solution,” said Yassin Alaa, a scrawny 20-year-old camped out in Tahrir.
Only a few dozen Iraqis remain in tents in the capital’s main protest square, which just months ago saw security forces fire tear gas and live bullets at demonstrators, who shot back with rocks or occasionally Molotov cocktails.
Violence left more than 550 people dead, but virtually no one has been held accountable — mirroring a lack of accountability over deaths at the hands of security forces in the US, Iraqis say. Now, they want to share their lessons learned.
“Don’t set anything on fire. Stay away from that, because the police will treat you with force right from the beginning and might react unpredictably,” Alaa told AFP.
And most importantly, he insisted, stick together. “If blacks and whites were united and they threw racism away, the system can never stop them,” he said.
Across their country, Iraqis spotted parallels between the roots of America’s protests and their own society.
“In the US it’s a race war, while here it’s a war of politics and religion,” said Haider Kareem, 31, who protested often in Tahrir and whose family lives in the US.
“But the one thing we have in common is the injustice we both suffer from,” he told AFP.
Iraq has its own history of racism, particularly against a minority of Afro-Iraqis in the south who trace their roots back to East Africa.
In 2013, leading Afro-Iraqi figure Jalal Thiyab was gunned down in the oil-rich city of Basra — but discrimination against the community is otherwise mostly nonviolent.
“Our racism is different than America’s racism,” said Ali Essam, a 34-year-old Afro-Iraqi who directed a wildly popular play about Iraq’s protests last year.
“Here, we joke about dark skin but in America, being dark makes people think you’re a threat,” he told AFP.
Solidarity is spreading online, too, with Iraqis tweaking their own protest chants and slogans to fit the US.
In one video, an elderly Iraqi is seen reciting a “hosa” or rhythmic chant, used to rally people into the streets last year and now adapted to an American context.
“This is a vow, this a vow! Texas won’t be quiet now,” he bellowed, before advising Americans to keep their rallies independent of foreign interference — mimicking a US government warning to Iraqis last year. Others shared the hashtag “America Revolts.”
Another Arabic hashtag going viral in Iraq translates as “We want to breathe, too,” referring to Floyd’s last words.
Not all the comparisons have been uplifting, however.
The governor of Minnesota, the state in which Minneapolis is located, said the US street violence “was reminiscent of Mogadishu or Baghdad.”
And the troops briefly deployed by US President Donald Trump to quell unrest in Washington were from the 82nd Airborne — which had just returned from duty in Iraq.
“Trump is using the American army against the American people,” said Democrat presidential candidate and former vice president Joe Biden.
Iraqis have fought back online, tweeting “Stop associating Baghdad with turmoil,” in response to comparisons with their homeland.
Others have used biting sarcasm.
In response to videos of crowds breaking into shops across US cities, Iraqis have dug up an infamous quote by ex-defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
“Lawlessness and looting is a natural consequence of the transition from dictatorship to a free country,” he said in response to a journalist’s question on widespread looting and chaos in Baghdad following the 2003 US-led invasion.