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Tuesday, January 25, 2022

UAE risks inclusion on global financial watchlist over money laundering


The Gulf state has orchestrated several anti-Qatar campaigns in recent years, pumping millions into the process.

The United Arab Emirates could soon be on the Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF) list of countries subject to more oversight for shortcomings in combating money laundering and terrorist financing, according to Bloomberg.

The U.S-based media company said the financial watchdog is looking into adding the UAE to its “grey list” in 2022, which would indicate that the country has “strategic deficiencies,” according to people familiar with the matter.

This comes as the Abu Dhabi fails to control illicit transactions, having also rushed through regulations on money laundering and financing. It also follows a number of scandals and PR campaigns, including attempts by the UAE to brandish Qatar as a ‘financier of terrorism.’

If the FATF approves this classification, it could be among the Paris-based group’s most significant decisions in its 30-year history, particularly in light of the Gulf state’s position as the main financial hub of the Middle East.

Currently, 23 countries are included among ‘grey list’ countries, including Albania, Syria, and South Sudan. Its second, highest-risk category – ‘black list’ – includes only two nations – Iran and North Korea.

“There are undoubtedly costs associated with being gray-listed,” said Katherine Bauer, a former Treasury Department official who led the U.S. delegation to the Middle East and North Africa Financial Action Task Force, a regional body modeled after the FATF.

“Many global regulators require that banks and financial institutions review, if not revise, their risk ratings and associated due diligence measures for counterparts in countries on the FATF list,” Bauer, a fellow with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told Bloomberg.’

Fake Qatar 2022 ‘Host a Fan’ conditions point towards ongoing UAE-linked anti-Qatar campaign

In November, the UAE submitted a report to the FATF, but its content was not sufficient to ensure their exclusion from the grey list. A decision by the FATF is expected in late February, so the Gulf state still has time and opportunity to make their case to the financial watchdog.

“We are taking this very seriously, having partnered with highly skilled and experienced specialists with a track-record in meeting best international practices and standards,” Hamid Al Zaabi, director general of the UAE Executive Office for Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorist Financing, said in a statement to Bloomberg News.

UAE’s anti-Qatar smear campaigns

In recent years, the UAE led several propaganda campaigns against Qatar, including attempts to denounce latter as a inciting terrorism.

Most recently, members of the pan-African organisation, the Federation of African Journalists (FAJ), denounced attempts believed to be perpetrated by the UAE to manipulate journalists in Africa into participating in a campaign against Qatar’s ability to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

The signatories of a statement slammed the UAE’s suspicious movements and attempts to rally African journalists against the World Cup in Qatar by trying to manipulating members of the press into inaccurately covering the events in the Gulf state.

Read also: GCC crisis: Where does Qatar stand with former blockading quartet?

In another incident, the UAE’s ambassador to Israel, Mahmoud Al-Khaja, attacked Qatar’s leading broadcaster Al Jazeera while visiting the chief of a right-wing Israeli movement that called for the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.

He accused Al Jazeera of shifting the narrative of the events in the apartheid state and not reflecting the truth. The comments were made just weeks after Al Jazeera’s office in Gaza city was leveled by Israeli airstrikes during an 11-day bombing campaign on the besieged Gaza Strip.

A Doha News investigation published last year also exposed similar sinister manipulation campaigns, all of which were carried via dubious bots and public figures in some of the GCC’s former blockading countries, including the UAE.

One of the hashtags analysed as part of the exposé was #Qatar_Revolts which attempted to exaggerate a small-scale demonstration launched by members of one tribe protesting the exclusion of some Qataris in the Shura Council election.

The investigation examined nearly 100,000 tweets and identified several highly active users that produced thousands of tweets featuring specific hashtags in an unusual period of time, all of which attempt to promote alleged public dissatisfaction towards Qatar’s government.

While Doha News was unable to determine beyond doubt who was deploying the fake bots, other reports and experts pointed towards authoritarian regimes in the Arab world who have in recent times exposed for utilising this tool to maintain further control on citizens – extending social media to their existing, vast and ever-evolving repressive global security apparatus.

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