25 Jun MONEYVAL warns that Serbia must not abuse the fight against terrorism financing to suppress the activities of civil society
Belgrade, June 25, 2021
Council of Europe Committee MONEYVAL warns that Serbia must not abuse the fight against terrorism financing to suppress the activities of civil society
The Committee of Experts on the Evaluation of Anti-Money Laundering Measures and the Financing of Terrorism of the Council of Europe – MONEYVAL, considering the actions of the Serbian Anti-Money Laundering Authority in the “List” case, warned that the legal framework for money laundering and terrorism financing should not be abused for the suppression of legitimate civil society activities.
At the plenary session of the Committee of Experts of the Council of Europe on the Evaluation of Anti-Money Laundering Measures and the Financing of Terrorism MONEYVAL, held in the period from April 26 to 30, the case “List” from July last year was high on the agenda when the Administration for the Prevention of Money Laundering exceed its authority by checking the bank transactions of 57 organizations and individuals from the media and the civil sector without an appropriate legal basis, contrary to international standards in this area.
Previously, in the proceedings initiated by the United Nations Special rapporteurs at the request of the organizations and media from the “List”, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) assessed that the Administration acted contrary to the recommendations of this main international body to establish standards to combat terrorism financing. Also, on this occasion, the UN’s Special rapporteurs for human rights assessed that the Government of Serbia abused the mechanism for the fight against terrorism financing in order to intimidate representatives of civil society and human rights defenders, limit their work and stifle criticism of the government.
Considering the statement of the state of Serbia in this case, MONEYVAL once again pointed out that financial intelligence bodies, such as The Administration for the Prevention of Money Laundering, do not have the authority to request information from banks without suspicion of money laundering, terrorism financing and other related acts. Furthermore, a clear warning was issued to MONEYVAL member countries, including Serbia, not to intentionally or unintentionally abuse the FATF recommendations in order to suppress legitimate civil society activities.
It was also emphasized at the session that the non-profit sector should be included in the preparation of the risk assessment of terrorism financing on a voluntary basis, instead of through the exercise of formal powers of inspection bodies. This criticized the explanation of the Government of Serbia that they collected data on banking transactions for the purpose of alleged preparation of a strategic analysis of the non-profit sector from the aspect of money laundering and terrorism financing, which has not been published until today. On that occasion, we remind you that the National Assessment of the Vulnerability of the Non-Profit Sector from Terrorism Financing is currently being prepared in Serbia, and that its development is a process in which the participation of civil society is only simulated. This assessment is an important document on the basis of which measures of state bodies and banks will be defined, which can affect the work of civil society organizations, non-profit media, foundations and endowments in Serbia, creating a negative perception of the work of these entities and destroying their reputation and credibility.
For this reason, civil society organizations have already stated that the Directorate for the Prevention of Money Laundering is trying to simulate partnership with the civil sector in conditions of serious mistrust between the two sides. The first step in restoring trust is to take steps to remedy the damage done by the Administration to organizations and individuals who have been inappropriately targeted in the “List” case by publishing and submitting the findings of the analysis that would show they conduct business in accordance with the law to the banks. Until this step is taken, there is no basis for participation in the preparation of the Risk Assessment and other forms of cooperation with the Administration for the Prevention of Money Laundering.