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Asia Pacific Group talks tough, asks Pak to enact appropriate laws to curb terror financing

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Islamabad  |   An international delegation monitoring Pakistan’s commitments to the global financial watchdog FATF has urged Islamabad to make terror financing and money laundering extraditable offences, a media report said today.

The Asia Pacific Group (APG) on Money Laundering, which is currently in Pakistan, will submit a report to the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF) which placed Pakistan on its ‘grey list’ in June.

The APG’s Mutual Evaluation report can play a critical role in retaining or removing Pakistan from the list after September next year.

Islamabad needs to comply by the end of September next year with a 10-point action plan it committed to the FATF in June to combat terror financing and money laundering to get out of the greylist, or else fall into the blacklist.

Placement on the greylist hurts a country’s economy as well as its international standing.

The Express Tribune reported that delegation yesterday urged Pakistan to enact appropriate laws, enabling local officials to act upon requests of foreign countries to freeze illegal assets and extradite those involved in terrorism financing and money laundering.

The delegation met officials of the Financial Monitoring Unit (FMU) of the State Bank of Pakistan, Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP), National Counter Terrorism Authority (Nacta), Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and representatives of the ministries of foreign affairs and interior.

It urged the country to make terror financing and money laundering extraditable offences.

Highlighting deficiencies in Pakistan’s legal framework, the visiting APG team pointed out that this could hamper Pakistan’s effective response on requests of mutual legal assistance by foreign countries in money laundering cases, officials said.

Stressing the need for strengthening domestic legal framework by October, members of the APG team an on-site inspection would be carried out by the regional body after this period.

It also urged the authorities concerned to give predicate offence monitoring powers to the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) and National Accountability Bureau (NAB).

The group’s other areas of concerns were activities by non-profit organisations, narcotics trafficking and proceeds of crimes.

The team comprises officials from the US, Turkey, China and the UK. Officials from the US Treasury and the UK’s New Scotland Yard are part of the delegation.

Discussions are taking place on technical grounds where Pakistani authorities are trying to address the APG’s concerns.

During its third day of the visit, the AGP team discussed the status of implementation of the FATF recommendations on supervision of financial institutions, challenges posed by beneficial ownership and trusts, the targeted financial sanctions against terrorism and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and mutual legal assistance and extradition.

After discussions, the AGP will prepare the second draft of technical compliance report before October, which can be improved upon during the mutual evaluation on-site visit, scheduled for October.

Pakistani authorities were of the view that each department had its own mutual legal assistance arrangement, which could meet the needs of other countries. However, they said that this did not fully persuade the APG team.

Pakistan is also not a signatory to mutual legal assistance treaties with countries such as the US, the UK, Canada, the UAE, Malaysia and Thailand.

Officials said that the APG team also expressed concerns about implementing recommendations on extradition of criminals involved in money laundering and terrorism financing.

The FATF makes it mandatory for member countries to deny safe havens to individuals charged with the financing of terrorism, terrorist acts or terrorist organisations.

Various departments gave presentations to the APG on their role in curbing money laundering and terrorism financing.

The visiting experts were largely satisfied with the performance of Anti Narcotics Force, SECP and NAB. But they sought improvements in the skill sets of the Financial Monitoring Unit and National Counter Terrorism Authority (NACTA).

Discussions were also held on effective supervision of financial institutions to ensure that the secrecy laws did not hamper implementation of the FATF recommendations.

The visiting experts also stressed that beneficial ownership should not be used to protect the proceeds of crimes.

They also discussed Pakistan’s legal and regulatory regimes on beneficial ownership and trusts, which could be used for laundering money.

Pakistani authorities are learnt to have informed the APG team about measures taken by the country to comply with the United Nations Security Council resolution 1267 and 1373, targeting financial sanctions against terrorists.

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Pope Francis arrives in Ireland

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Dublin  |  Pope Francis touched down in Dublin today for a historic two-day visit to Ireland, where the Catholic Church is battling to regain trust following multiple scandals.

His Alitalia “Shepherd One” flight landed under cloudless skies at 10:26 am (0926 GMT), where deputy head of government Simon Coveney and his children were waiting to meet him with a bouquet of white and yellow roses with Irish foliage.

Hundreds of thousands of wellwishers and over a 1,000 journalists are expected to follow Francis during his tour of Dublin and County Mayo in the far west of the country.

Francis will tour Dublin today on his Popemobile before visiting a hostel for homeless families and giving a speech at Croke Park stadium.

The highlight of the visit will be an outdoor mass in the city’s Phoenix Park tomorrow, expected to draw 500,000 people — a tenth of the country’s entire population.

It is the first papal visit to Ireland since Pope John Paul II spoke to a crowd of 1.5 million people there in 1979.

The country has since undergone fundamental social change, becoming more secular — electing a gay prime minister and voting to legalise same-sex marriage and abortion.

The church has also been tarnished by clerical abuse scandals and victims and their supporters will hold a “Stand for Truth” demonstration in Dublin during the Sunday mass.

The Vatican confirmed Francis will meet with victims but provided no details, and said It also said he was unlikely to announce specific measures to combat sexual abuse within the church following a devastating recent US report that accused more than 300 priests in the state of Pennsylvania of abusing more than 1,000 children since the 1950s.

In Tuam, a town in western Ireland, a silent vigil was planned in solidarity with victims of “mother and baby” homes — institutions accused of being punishment hostels for unwed pregnant women.

He will meet with President Michael D Higgins and Prime Minister (Taoiseach) Leo Varadkar.

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Pakistan bans discretionary use of state funds, first-class air travel by govt officials

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Islamabad  |  Pakistan’s new government has banned the discretionary use of state funds and first-class air travel by officials and leaders, including the president and the prime minister, as part of its austerity drive.

The decisions were made at a Cabinet meeting, chaired by Prime Minister Imran Khan yesterday, according to Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry.

“It has been decided that all the top government officials, including the president, prime minister, chief justice, senate chairman, speaker national assembly and the chief ministers will travel in club/business,” he told media.

To a question, Chaudhry said that the Army chief was not allowed first-class travel and always used business class.

He said that the discretionary allocation of funds by the prime minister and the president and other officials was also stopped by the Cabinet.

Chaudhry claimed that former prime minister Nawaz Sharif used Rs 51 billion discretionary funds in a year.

The prime minister also decided to stop using a special plane for foreign visits or domestic travelling and use business class.

After his victory in the July 25 general election, Khan decided not to use palatial Prime Minister House and instead live in a small portion of it that was previously used as the residence by the military secretary to the prime minister.

Khan also decided to use only two vehicles and keep two servants. He refused to use elaborate official protocol.

The Cabinet took up a host of issues, including reverting to six-day working week, but decided to continue five-day working after some ministers opposed the idea because it may alienate government servants.

The five-day working was instituted in 2011 due to power shortages and save fuels. The Cabinet was briefed that five-day working had not affected the performance or output by the civil servants.

While retaining two weekly off-days, the Cabinet changed the official office timings from 8-4 pm to 9-5 pm.

The meeting also decided to conduct an audit of all the mega transport projects carried out in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa by the previous governments.

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Rohingya emergency one year on: UN says thousands of lives saved, but challenges remain

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United Nations  |  Significant progress has been made in protecting hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh since they fled, but lives “will once again be at risk” if funding is not urgently secured, UN officials have said on the eve of the first anniversary of a military crackdown that forced them to flee their country.

Nearly 700,000 Rohingyas, most of them Muslims, have been displaced from Rakhine since the military began a crackdown on militants last August. Most have crossed the border into Bangladesh, joining the 200,000 refugees already there.

Deputy Director-General of Emergency Preparedness and Response for the UN World Health Organisation (WHO) Peter Salama told journalists in Geneva that deadly disease outbreaks had been held at bay in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar despite “all the conditions being in place for a massive epidemic”.

Outbreaks of measles, diphtheria, polio, cholera and rubella have been contained, he said, noting that “thousands of lives” had been saved so far, thanks to the joint efforts of the Bangladesh Government, WHO and partners.

“We need to sustain the vigilance for early warnings of infectious diseases,” Salama said. “That is still a major risk due to the environmental situation, the poor sanitation, the massive overcrowding, the way these people are being housed and we need to maintain our ability to scale-up outbreak response as required.”

His call to scale up help was echoed in Geneva by IOM, the UN migration agency, spokesperson Joel Millman.

“This was the fastest growing refugee crisis in the world and the challenges have been immense, he said, highlighting comments by the agency’s Chief of Mission in Bangladesh Giorgi Gigauri. Countless lives have been saved thanks to the generosity of the Government of Bangladesh, the local community and donors and the hard work of all those involved in the humanitarian response. But we now face the very real threat that if more funding is not urgently secured, lives will once again be at risk.”

One year on from the exodus sparked by a military operation likened to ethnic cleansing by UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, more than 720,000 Rohingya people have arrived in Cox’s Bazar in southern Bangladesh.

They have joined an estimated 200,000 Rohingya refugees who were previously displaced.

One of the camps, Kutupalong, shelters more than 600,000 refugees, making it the largest and most densely populated refugee settlement in the world, according to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

In addition to the challenge of providing people’s basic needs shelter, water and sanitation and healthcare the agency has carried out huge engineering work to reduce the risk of landslides and flooding. This also involved mobilizing and training hundreds of refugee volunteers to serve as first responders in the event of a natural disaster, although the camps have largely withstood the adverse weather.

Another key area of concern is the health of some 60,000 pregnant Rohingya women in the camps. Many of them suffered gender-based violence either prior to or during the course of their flight from Myanmar, WHO’s Salama said, adding that only one-fifth of them will give birth in a suitable healthcare facility.

Partner agency UNHCR also underlined the calls for the international community to step up support for the Rohingya, who are stateless and unable to return to Myanmar. This is despite the UN’s signing of an official Memorandum of Understanding with the Government of Myanmar in June, to help establish conditions conducive for the safe, dignified and sustainable repatriation of the Rohingya.

According to OCHA, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the mainly Muslim Rohingya communities that have stayed in Rakhine state require urgent and in some cases lifesaving – help.

Some 660,000 people are in need across Rakhine state including more than 176,000 in Northern Rakhine, OCHA spokesperson Jens Laerke said.

“We stand ready to go there as soon as access allows,” he added.

“Most humanitarian organisations that have been working in Northern Rakhine state for years have still not been able to resume programmes and services for these population which are some of the most vulnerable in the world.”

Till date, the USD 950 million Rohingya 2018 appeal is only just over 30 per cent funded.

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