Friday, February 18, 2005

Saying One Thing and Doing Another

Juan Zarate, US Assistant Treasury Secretary for Terrorist Financing and Financial Crime, gave a long testimony to the Senate Financial Services Committee yesterday. It's good to see that, in his words:
"Treasury is also working with the interagency community to identify and shut down illicit financiers who have penetrated the diamond and precious commodity industries in support of criminal activities. Under Executive Order 13348, the Department is pursuing economic sanctions against members of the former Charles Taylor regime and a number of its supporters who financed criminal and terrorist activity though engagement in the diamond and timber industries, including a key Taylor supporter - the Russian-based arms trafficker Viktor Bout.

Arguably the largest private arms dealer in the world today, Bout uses his fleet of Soviet-era cargo aircraft to supply guns and bullets by the ton, as well as advanced equipment such as attack helicopters to anyone willing to pay his price. In Liberia and elsewhere, Bout's organization has reportedly accepted payment in diamonds which can be easily and profitably unloaded in the Middle East or Europe.

All of these efforts - using a variety of tools available to us -- form part of a comprehensive strategy to deal with the vulnerabilities associated with the precious commodities market."
So why aren't I jumping for joy? For a start, in the paragraph above, Zarate mentions that William Fox, director of the Treasury's Financial Crime Enforcement Network, addressed the World Diamond Council in Dubai back in March, 2004. He said many good things about addressing the black market in diamonds. So how, then, were US representatives at the UN trying to get Viktor off the hook two months later? Surely the State Department didn't come up with that policy without consulting Zarzate's department, who would appear to be the responsible authority? Or did the Pentagon act behind the Treasury's back?

And why, why, why are aircraft belonging to outfits as notorious as Transavia Export, one of the very first Bout firms, still operating into Iraqi airports under US security control? Our old friend, the Sharjah Airport website, tells us (scroll down) that a Transavia bird is due in from Baghdad at 1700GMT today. Two hours before that, there should be a Phoenix Aviation arrival from British-controlled Basra. That's not counting movements by suspect firms like Airline Transport, Click and Georgian National (which is NOT the national airline of Georgia) into Baghdad and also Balad Airbase. Transavia are also flying to Kabul. If the US government doesn't act on its declared policy, why should anyone else with more to lose?

The problem with EO 13348, anyway, is that the annex to it contains a list of persons but not of companies, with one exception, and hence isn't much cop as a blacklist. Document here (pdf).

Update!: The Baghdad departures list for Dubai airport shows us that our friends British Gulf are still going to Baghdad. Although the Biman Bangladesh logo is shown on the list, the ICAO code BGK begins the flight number - BGK is the code for BGIA. Also, the aircraft is detailed as being an Antonov 12. Biman does not operate An12s. Further, there's a "Click" Il-76 and an Irbis Yak-42, this one listed as Royal Brunei but using Irbis's ICAO code and aircraft. To cap the lot, there's also a Phoenix 737-200 service.

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