This week, Executive Vice President John Byrne, and Creative Director Elliot Berman of the AML RightSource staff discuss several cases recently filed under the Anti-Terrorism Act arising from alleged terrorist acts in the Middle East where the supportive funding was funneled through several charitable organizations. During the conversation they consider the impact the suits could have on the access legitimate charities have to financial services.
The Anti-Terrorism Act Transcript
Elliot Berman: Hi, John, how are you this week?
John Byrne: Hi Elliot, well, we've got our first, first snow of the winter. Not as much in Virginia as obviously our friends, up the coast, but a little different weather for a change.
Elliot Berman: I saw this week a news article about the filing of a couple of lawsuits under the anti-terrorism act. The act among many things, provides an Avenue for US victims of terrorism to file civil suits in the US courts, to try to recover damages. These cases had to do with extremist violence in Israel, that resulted in the death of a US citizen in Israel. And they filed against three of Qatar's leading financial institutions alleging that they secretly funneled millions of dollars to Palestinian groups, and groups that are US designated terrorist groups. And there's an element in here that's important, I think for our conversation. The allegations in the complaint include the fact that, the transfer of the funds, the supportive funds, were done under the guise of a Qatari charitable donation, moved through the US banking system and through, punitive charities. That's a very long startup - I'm sorry for that - but it's a little complicated. I just wondered. Did you see that article?
John Byrne: Yeah, I saw that and I took a quick look at the complaint, but not in detail.
And they did utilize a correspondent bank account in New York. What struck me about this and it's not whether or not the case should or should not be brought, but the issue that we've worked on for a number of years - and that is, as we know, charities have been unfortunately used to move funds, to commit terrorist acts.
It has resulted in some cases, in a broad based response from the financial sector to characterize all charities in the same bucket as you will, then all being the same level of risk, which isn't the case. When you see things like this, you hope the response of our community is to make sure that you consider each charity on its face, so that you don't decide that this particular charity or charities that were used that's now in question is the same as syrian relief for the red cross or any other groups that are helping humanitarian causes. Again, the use of the statute is interesting on the one hand, the connection to the US is also interesting on the other. But the cautionary note, I think for us in our community is just to ensure that we consider these things, on their own merits, and that's been something obviously that we've worked with various groups, including the charity and security network.
So I'm sure there's all sorts of things that frustrate them, but probably not any differently than when an MSP is called out or a large international bank is called out and the reputation hit the people take.
So that's why I thought it made sense for us to just spend a couple of minutes talking about it.
Elliot Berman: Yeah. The other thing, and again, it's not, I'm assuming it wasn't part of, The decision of the plaintiffs to bring suit, but this is happening, with the backdrop of the change of administration, the complexity of the relationship among many stern countries. Qatar's been on the outs with some of its neighbors for a while, and, so all of that kind of plays into this, in a way that makes, depending on where you sit, and depending on what you're thinking about, really makes it complicated. But I think your point about making sure that something like this, doesn't send everybody back to the view that all charities are high risk that we really need to make an assessment of the organizations we're working with so that we know how to identify truly high risk customers and charities aren't any different than any other customers. You just have to ask the right questions and do the due diligence
John Byrne: That's right. So the case was filed, or at least the reporting of it was on, December 15th. So it's worth a look. The Washington post wrote about this in December 15th as well. And I think you can get some good information there and we'll continue to follow this and other issues where we're not gonna, chat next week.
Next week, people will be home for the holidays, but we will pick up again before the new year. And so looking forward to talking again, Elliot.
Elliot Berman: Yeah, you and your family have a happy holidays and I look forward to kicking off 2021 on January 1st with you.
John Byrne: Great. Stay safe. Take care.
Elliot Berman: You too. Bye-bye.