By Ayaz GulbvFebruary 21, 2020
ISLAMABAD – A global agency leading the fight against the financing of terrorism and money laundering has kept Pakistan on its “gray list” of nations with inadequate mechanisms to curb funding sources to terrorist groups.
The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) met Friday at its headquarters in Paris and reviewed Islamabad’s commitments under an action plan agreed to with the international agency. It decided to keep Pakistan off its blacklist in the wake of “recent and notable improvements,” giving the country four months to deliver on its remaining commitments.
In a post-meeting statement, however, the FATF said that while it recognized progress made by Islamabad, it was concerned about the failure to complete the action plan to reduce money laundering and terrorist financing risks.
“The FATF strongly urges Pakistan to swiftly complete its full action plan by June 2020,” said the global agency. “Otherwise, should significant and sustainable progress, especially in prosecuting and penalizing TF [terrorism financing] not be made by the next plenary, the FATF will take action.”
Call for special scrutiny
The watchdog group said punitive action could include the FATF calling on member states and urging all jurisdictions to give special attention to investment-related business relations and transactions with Pakistan.
“FATF members agreed to maintain Pakistan’s status on FATF’s Compliance Document, normally referred [to] as the gray list,” the Pakistani government said in a statement issued after the Paris meeting.
Pakistan was placed on the “gray list” in 2018 for a lack of adequate controls over terrorism financing, which made foreign firms more cautious about investing in the South Asian nation.
Islamabad has long been accused of harboring and supporting Islamist militant organizations allegedly orchestrating terrorist attacks in neighboring Afghanistan and India.
Pakistan rejects the accusations and has been able to avoid being blacklisted because of support from close allies, including China, Malaysia, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
Finance Ministry adviser Abdul Hafeez Shaikh hailed Beijing’s continued “massive support” in FATF meetings.
“China and other brotherly countries have supported Pakistan throughout the process in terms of guiding the country to improve its frameworks,” Shaikh said in a statement his office issued Friday.
The Pakistani government maintains it has taken “significant” steps in recent months to address terrorism-financing-related deficiencies under the FATF action plan.
Just days before Friday’s meeting in Paris, a special court in Pakistan convicted a radical cleric, Hafiz Saeed, and an associate in terrorism-related cases, giving Saeed two 5½-year prison sentences that will run concurrently.
The Pakistani cleric became a known figure worldwide when the group he headed at the time, Lashkar-e-Taiba, or LeT, was blamed for a series of coordinated attacks lasting almost four days in Mumbai, India’s financial capital, in November 2008. The attacks killed 166 people, among them, Americans, Canadians and Europeans.
The United States has offered a financial reward for bringing Saeed to justice.
Senior State Department diplomat Alice Wells swiftly hailed the February 12 Pakistani court ruling.
“Today’s conviction of Hafiz Saeed and his associate is an important step forward – both toward holding LeT accountable for its crimes, and for Pakistan in meeting its international commitments to combat terrorist financing,” tweeted Wells, the State Department’s principal deputy assistant secretary.