This Week in AML

US Treasury Meets with NGOs on Activities in Afghanistan

This week Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian Nelson spoke with leaders of NGOs active in Afghanistan. The focus of the conversation was the newly issued FAQs, which are designed to bring more clarity about food and agricultural shipments, support to public hospitals, salary support for teachers and healthcare workers, support for municipal water systems, bank transactions, and cash shipments. The FAQs add to the information issued in December 2021 Fact Sheet Provision of  Humanitarian Assistance to Afghanistan and Support for the Afghan People. John and Elliot discuss how the overall issue of de-risking is brought into clear relief in situations such as Afghanistan and how the FAQs can help financial service providers and NGOs navigate the sanctions against the Taliban and bring humanitarian support to the Afghan people.



US Treasury Meets with NGOs on Activities in Afghanistan TRANSCRIPT


Elliot Berman: How are you this week?


John Byrne: Hey, Elliot, really good. I hope everything's going well with you. I thought I'd just jump into this right away. You know, obviously, there's always a lot of things going on during the week. This month is anti-human trafficking month. So a lot of the law enforcement agencies are issuing guidance documents there.


So that's ongoing, and we're still dealing with the outputs from the AMLA law in terms of studies and that kind of thing, so staying on top of that. But the thing I just wanted to spend a couple of minutes on, several of us from our advisory board, including Rick Small, are involved in what they're calling a multi-stakeholder dialogue. Sort of under the auspices of humanitarian groups and the financial sector, the parts of the government dealing with de-risking. So this is an issue that we've been dealing with for four or five years.


We obviously issued a report a couple of years ago, but one of the things they've been working on besides the overall issue of how humanitarian groups and charities can get access to financial transactions and accounts is in Afghanistan. So what I saw this week was the treasury department, when they have meetings or issues, will put out what they call a readout. This particular one will be under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence. Brian Nelson talked to NGOs yesterday about operating Afghanistan, and that's obviously been a major challenge. The readout talks about a series of FAQs

that have recently been issued to explain to those that are part of this challenge what they can and can't do. This is an offshoot of a December document that came out dealing with this issue. So [I] wanted to flag that for you. I know we've talked about it offline. Did you get a chance to look at it?


Elliot Berman: I did see that, and you know, the FAQs are broken up into seven different buckets focusing on specific things. As a reminder, many activities in Afghanistan are subject to some kind of sanctions. So that means that a lot of the activities that NGOs are trying to do there, flow through either a specific or general licenses. So there is a mechanism through OFAC to apply. Some of them are known as self-executing, but one that caught my eye was guidance on humanitarian cash shipments.


As I was thinking about that one, you know whether it's in a relief effort that is as a result of a catastrophic event of a hurricane, or, you know, an earthquake or something like that, or whether it's a broader, ongoing relief effort. In Afghanistan, as an example, as a result of years and years of conflict, governments coming and going, and the things going on, there's still this need, in addition to what I'll call relief supplies and relief activity is you still need relief funding.


Oftentimes in these areas, cash is the most effective because you can do something with it on the ground, particularly in some parts of the world where electronic payment systems have not developed to anything sufficient. So I thought it was interesting that there's updated guidance on humanitarian cash shipments to Afghanistan.


It does go back to a number of general licenses that are already in place but with clarification. So for those of our listeners who are providing financial services to organizations, NGOs, or others. I think it would be important for them to be looking at this FAQ and the related licenses so that they could help their customers move funds in an effective way.


John Byrne: You know, one of the other FAQs that jumped out at me, they offer a number of examples. One of them is what are examples of transactions involving the Taliban, or I think it's pronounced quantity network that are authorized under general licenses. The licenses 14 and 19, which our sanctions experts will obviously know.


They say one example is if an NGO is providing support directly to Afghan hospitals or healthcare workers but needs to sign an MOU that involves the Taliban in order to provide such support directly to the Afghan people that would be authorized under those general licenses. So there is a recognition on the part of OFAC and treasury.


You know, despite or because of the challenges now in Afghanistan, we really need to be able to help the citizens there and especially in issues like medical issues. This is just one example of many. So again, I know our sanctions experts have already looked through all this, so they're really good.


This is kind of what they do, but I thought it was interesting. You know, this was something Nelson [inaudible] treasury put out just to continue to let the NGOs know; hey, we are working with you. We're going to make this information public and try to make this; I don't want to say as simple as possible but try to make it as efficient as possible.

It's certainly something that we in the financial sector want to be able to help as well.


Elliot Berman: Yeah. So you mentioned early on in our conversation today the fact that there was a December document. That December document is a fact sheet. The title of which is Provision of Humanitarian Assistance to Afghanistan and Support for the Afghan People.


I would say for people who aren't sanctions experts and who may be coming to this for the first time, these FAQs lay on top of that. So I would urge people to, you know, take a look at that. We will link to that fact sheet in our post. So if you're listening to us, you should be able to find a link to that to make it easy for you to find it.


I guess my last comment about this topic is, you know, this highlights the practical reality that the world faces when a group or groups that are viewed as terrorists become the government or are the government. If we want to continue to take a humanitarian view of and separate the governmental acts or the terrorist acts from the citizens, in the end, we need to find pathways through, and I think that this is what it's true to do. 


John Byrne: I think that's right. I think that this administration has definitely been more receptive to try to deal with [and] navigate this, which is so important. Let me just mention we have a webinar coming up on February 24th, one o'clock Eastern. It's titled, What's new for 2022, What we've seen and What We Expect. We have members of our advisory board who are experts in international, domestic, and all sorts of areas of AML [and] CTF. Terry Pesce, Melissa Strait, and Rick small. So if you haven't already signed up for that, it's free, again; What's New for 2022. February 24th at one o'clock.


Elliot Berman: Yes, and you can sign up on our website. Also, if you enjoyed this edition of This Week in AML, please catch our podcast every week. You can find it on Spotify, Apple Podcast, or wherever you get your podcasts. And of course, you can always find it on our website.


Lastly, I want to put in a plug for a series of blog posts that we're working on, which is going to look at 2022, kind of, what's in store in the financial crimes compliance space globally on a region by region basis. So watch it's going to be a multi-part series, authored by one of our colleagues, Sophie Proctor.


So keep an eye on that. Those will start posting later this month, and John, I will talk to you next week. You have a great weekend, and stay safe.


John Byrne: You too. Take care, Elliot. See ya.


Elliot Berman: Yup. Bye-bye.