Sunday, November 1, 2020

UK watchdog investigating British Qatari owned bank, Al Rayan over lax money-laundering

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The UK’s finance watchdog is investigating a British Qatari-controlled bank, Al Rayan that has been acting as a platform for extremists’ interests in Europe.

The British-registered, Qatari state controlled bank Al Rayan, is being investigated over its money laundering controls.

The bank told shareholders that its “anti-money laundering processes and controls have been placed under formal review by the Financial Conduct Authority”, The Times reported.

The bank has come under scrutiny after it was revealed its client list included at least 15 controversial entities – four of which have had their UK accounts closed by leading banks including HSBC and Barclays.

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Its client list includes groups accused of links to extremists including Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.

It is believed the investigation was launched last year and has led to restrictions placed on the bank preventing it from opening new deposit accounts for anyone “categorised as high risk for the purposes of financial crime risk”.

An Al Rayan spokesman told the paper the bank voluntarily agreed to place a temporary restriction on new deposit accounts for certain people after discussions with the financial authority.

The battle against money laundering “is an ongoing challenge for all banks and Al Rayan is fully committed to the fight against financial crimes in all its forms,” the spokesman said.

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“UK regulators regularly review financial institutions’ systems and processes. We continue to work with them to constantly improve our capability in this critical area.”

Related: The U.K.’s Big Saudi Bribery Probe Is Stuck in Legal Limbo

The bank’s clients include Finsbury Park Mosque, which was formerly run by hate cleric Abu Hamza who is serving a life sentence for terror offences in the US, and had its account closed by HSBC in 2014.

It has been listed as being associated with terrorism on the banking system World-Check, which institutions use when deciding on clients and their risk.

The Nectar Trust, the British arm of the Qatar Charity in Doha that is banned by countries including the UAE, is a customer.

The Qatar Charity, which has been connected with the Muslim Brotherhood and designated a proscribed organisation in some countries for its links to terrorism, handed the Nectar Trust £28.2 million (Dh126.9m) between 2017 and 2018.

The Ummah Welfare Trust, which has worked with organisations in Gaza that are banned in the US for funding Hamas, is a client. It was previously dropped by HSBC as a customer.

Palestinian aid charity Interpal, which was identified in a UK government report as having links to the Muslim Brotherhood, has been banned in the US over alleged funding links to Hamas. It previously had its Lloyds and Natwest bank accounts closed.

Related: HSBC agrees to 300 million euro settlement of Belgian tax fraud case: prosecutors

The Financial Conduct Authority has previously refused to confirm whether it was investigating Al Rayan.

The bank, which is based in Birmingham, is meeting all its legal and regulatory requirements and the clients are lawfully entitled to operate in the UK.

Under its counter-terrorism laws, the UK has the power to freeze accounts it believes are linked to terrorism.

The accounts of these organisations are still active and operating within the law.

The bank said it could not discuss individual clients but that it “only provides banking services to entities that are authorised to operate” in Britain.

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Al Rayan, which is regulated by the authority, is the oldest and largest Islamic bank in the UK, with more than 85,000 customers and an asset book in excess of £2.05 billion.

Under the Money Laundering, Terrorist Financing and Transfer of Funds Regulations 2017, there is an onus on banks to exercise appropriate due diligence in deciding on clients, at the risk of multimillion-pound fines.

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