How Could Albania’s Hosting of the MEK Affect Its Inclusion in the FATF’s Grey List?
BY REZA ALGHURABI
Money laundry is an ordinary operational technique among criminal gangs and terrorist organizations to provide their own finances. However, this does not mean that governments do not commit it. In countries where mafia gangs are widely involved in money laundering, this criminal act can infiltrate financial institutions, acquire control of large sectors of the economy through investment, or offer bribes to public officials and indeed governments.
The countries involved in money laundering are strongly pressured by international law and international organizations and are subject to sanction regimes.
On February 21th, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) announced that it has added Albania and five other countries to the countries under “increased monitoring”, otherwise known as the “grey list”. This list includes countries whose jurisdictions have “strategic deficiencies” in the prevention of money laundering and organized crime and are therefore subject to greater monitoring.
Albania entered the list, while it was dropped out of it in 2015, but, it was re-entered the list by the MONEYVAL, which is a permanent mechanism of the European Council in charge of evaluating the implementation of standards in the fight against money laundering and organized crime.
As early as 2018 Moneyval had called on the Albanian authorities to step up efforts to prosecute people involved in money laundering and confiscation of their property.
The report, which has been very negative for Albania, highlights the link between corruption and criminal organizations related to money laundering, warning the authorities that adequate measures have not been taken to combat the phenomenon.
MONEYVAL recognizes that the Albanian authorities are well aware of the risks that money laundering causes to the formal economy and have created national coordination mechanisms for policy development to address the risks. However, these mechanisms have not proven to be fully effective and there are some areas where better results could have been obtained.
Albania’s lack of action to combat money laundering is also recognized by the US government. According to the U.S. State Department’s 2019 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report on Money Laundering and Financial Crimes, the Government of Albania made no significant progress toward thwarting money laundering and financial crimes in 2018. It is insisted in the report that Albania remains vulnerable to money laundering due to corruption, growing organized crime networks, and weak legal and government institutions.
This situation has prompted the European Commission to expand the mechanism of control of the phenomenon of money laundering in Albania, placing the country on the gray list of countries at high risk of money laundering, from which it had left in 2015.
However, there is something worrying about Albania’s inclusion in the gray list, which discriminates it from other listed countries: The country is home for a terrorist organization with a long history of illicit fundraising activities.
The Mojahedin-e Khalq (MeK) Organization, is an Iranian guerilla group listed as a terrorist organization by the European Union, the United States, the United Kingdom, and Canada until a few years ago. This terrorist group, which was relocated with more than 2,500 members to Albania in 2016, is among criminal organizations that has a long history of money laundering activities.
According to evidence which became available after the fall of Saddam Hussein, the MEK received millions of dollars in Oil-for-Food program subsidies from Saddam Hussein from 1999 through 2003. In addition to discovering 13 lists of recipients of such vouchers on which the MEK appeared, evidence linking the MEK to the former Iraqi regime includes lists, as well as video footage of both Saddam Hussein handing over suitcases of money to known MEK leaders.
In addition, there are numerous reports exposing the MeK’s approach in fraudulently soliciting funds for imaginary orphanages and charities and then using the funds to purchase weapons and telecommunication equipment. Among these reports, one could refer to the German Federal Security Service’s report in 2008 and the Rand Corporation’s monograph in 2009.
The German Federal Office for the Protection of constitution (BFV) published a 23-page report in 2008, referring to the MEK as a terrorist organization which is actively involved in illicit fundraising activities. It is mentioned in the report that the National Council of Resistance of Iran, the political arm of MEK, active in Europe and North America, has drawn the attention of the world due to its substantial propaganda and systematic fund-raising activities.
The RAND Corporation, a U.S. government-funded think tank, issued an analysis of the MeK in 2009, referring to its extensive fundraising activities. The report mentioned criminal investigations conducted in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Germany about the MeK in 2001, which exposed ongoing money-laundering activities by the group, leading to the arrestment and prosecution of several of its members.
The MEK has repeatedly been questioned by the media about their financial resources, but they have never responded. This strengthens the speculations about the group’s current extensive money laundering activities.
Worryingly, it is more than five years since this terrorist-criminal group with a long record of money laundering resides in Albania, a country on the FTAF’s gray list for money laundering, and have warm relations with the country’s officials.
This will probably make the situation a little more complicated in Albania and even in the Balkans, leading to further promotion of terrorism and money laundering and weakening of international mechanisms to combat money laundering in the Balkans. The fact that the Balkans have been a haven for organized crime networks and one source of human resources for extremist groups such as ISIS makes matters worse.
Albania has been longing for joining the European Union for years, but the process of starting negotiations to join Tirana has failed so far due to various reasons, including corruption and money laundering. Although Albania took some measures during this period, according to the FATF’s announcement, it was mainly legal adjustments and “not actions on the ground.”
Limiting criminal groups, including the MEK, and clarifying their financial mechanisms and resources can greatly contribute to transparency, which could bring Albania into the practical phase of combating money laundering. Otherwise, it seems unlikely that Tirana’s actions will satisfy the MONEYVAL experts to remove them from the grey list of money laundering and terror financing.