Serbia ‘abused’ money laundering laws to target critics, Reuters reports
Part of a list of NGOs whose financial data was sought from banks. Screenshot: Youtube.com/Newsmax Adria
Serbia is among several countries that have abused legislation passed to comply with Financial Action Task Force, FATF, Anti-Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing standards to investigate critical voices and NGO, Reuters reported Thursday.
According to Reuters, in Uganda, Serbia, India, Tanzania and Nigeria, the legislation has been “used by authorities to investigate journalists, NGO workers and lawyers.”
“Through constant assessments of country measures, the FATF plays a little-known but essential role in shaping financial crime legislation and in enforcing government security priorities,” said the FATF. Press Agency. “Around the world, he has strengthened laws to fight money laundering and the financing of terrorism. “
“But by pressuring countries with weak democratic frameworks to pass and enforce such laws, the FATF unwittingly handed over a new legal instrument to authoritarian governments, say a dozen think tank and group researchers. defense of human rights, “he added.
Reuters quoted Tom Keatinge, director of the Center for Financial Crime at the Royal United Services Institute in London, as saying that FATF standards “are increasingly not only misunderstood, but are being deliberately abused”.
Regarding Serbia, Reuters recalled a request that the administration of the Ministry of Finance for the prevention of money laundering made to banks in July 2020.
The aim was to provide “customer data on some fifty NGOs and media known to criticize what they consider to be the increasingly autocratic regime of President Aleksandar Vucic”. The list included the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, BIRN and a number of BIRN staff.
Reuters further reported that “after the letter was leaked, Finance Minister Sinisa Mali told a local television station that the intelligence unit was ‘doing its job’ and that requests for data should not be a problem for “if nothing is hidden” targets. ”.
No individual has been charged so far as a result of the investigations, Reuters reported.
Reuters reported that Maja Stojanovic, director of the non-profit Civic Initiatives of Serbia named in the letter, told the news agency that she believed the Serbian government was using the data for smear campaigns. in order to undermine the work of NGOs.
“When Stojanovic and other targeted NGOs consulted the banks about the requests, the banks said they could not disclose the information they shared with the authorities,” the news agency reported.
Reuters said it asked three of the banks, Banca Intesa Beograd, OTP banka Srbija and Erste Group Bank, for comment, all of which refused to do so.