Remarks at the Interpol Unity for Security Forum

Remarks by David Lewis, FATF Executive Secretary

Abu Dhabi, 29 March 2017

 I would like to thank the United Arab Emirates for this important meeting and Interpol for the opportunity to participate.  

The attacks in Paris came two weeks after I started this job. Members of my team were at and had friends at the venues attacked. So tackling terrorist financing is also now a personal as well as professional endeavour for my team.

Money motivates crime and enables terrorism. By following the money we can effectively tackle both.

While terrorist organisations vary in size, structure, operational reach and capabilities, they can't operate without access to funds. 

Large terrorist organisations like ISIL need substantial funds to pay for operations, for propaganda and recruitment, for training, for salaries and even to provide social services. 

Money comes from natural resources, extortion, taxes, kidnap for ransom, foreign donation, plundering cultural artefacts and even selling organs of dead fighters.

Methods to choke terrorist organisations of their access to funds work and are being used successfully against ISIL and others.

We need to work with the banks, the money remitters and charities. We need to follow physical cash and we increasingly need to work with FinTech providers and social media platforms.

In contrast to large terrorist organisations, the financial needs of small terrorist cells and lone actors are much more modest.

Money may come from maxing out a credit card, social welfare benefits, small loans or selling a scooter.

While these attacks may not be sophisticated or high-cost, we have witnessed the devastating impact they can have.  The need to detect small terrorist cells and lone actors before an attack happens remains much more challenging. 

However, in all cases, financial information can be hugely valuable for law enforcement. 

It can help identify and track terrorists and their networks during or after an incident.  After the November 2016 Paris attacks, police used pre-paid card transactions to re-trace the activities of the cell and to identify their broader support network. 

A recent Egmont Group project to share financial information between financial intelligence units, on a multi-lateral basis, led to the conviction of two previously unknown terrorists and the prosecution of 20 others.

This demonstrates the value financial intelligence can bring to investigations, particularly when pooled from multiple countries. 

I believe INTERPOL can play an important role here, developing practical tools to facilitate the exchange of such information. 

As Dr. Abdu said this morning, the FATF was created by the G7 in 1989. It was created to tackle the proceeds of drug trafficking by the cartels. Today it has 37 member jurisdictions and a mandate for anti-money laundering, counter terrorist and counter proliferation financing.

We do 3 things –

  • we research how criminals launder the proceeds of crime and how terrorists raise and access funds;
  • we set global standards to mitigate those risks;
  • and we assess how effective countries are at preventing, detecting and disrupting the threats they face.

Terrorist financing became a priority for the FATF following 9/11 and today remains our top priority.

We have a Strategy and Operational Plan to lead global action in a number of areas including:

  • ensuring that there are no weak links in the financial system 
  • maintaining an up-to-date and global understanding of the evolving nature of the threat
  • partnering with the private sector to improve the detection and prevention, and
  • breaking down the barriers to interagency co-operation to make the best use of the information we have.  

We must ensure countries have common powers to detect and disrupt terrorist financing. 

198 jurisdictions have committed to implementing the FATF standards, and the G20 has committed to swiftly and efficiently tackle all sources, techniques and channels of terrorist financing. We will be holding them to account for doing so.

Countries that fail to do this are given a chance to do so quickly and if they don't we name them publicly. This targets key vulnerabilities and is effective in catalysing action by countries, including by deterring foreign investment or in the worst cases cutting off countries altogether from the financial system. 

Understanding the problem is key to solving it. Our work in identifying risk assists law enforcement in detecting and preventing the funding of terrorists and helps to identify terrorist networks. 

We published a definitive study on how ISIL is financed and we have a continuous process to keep authorities’ knowledge up to date. 

We are also closely monitoring other terrorist organisations including Boko Haram and we recently published a joint study with our African partners on terrorist financing in West and Central Africa. 

And we are now working with INTERPOL and others on the Financing of Recruitment for Terrorist Purposes. 

I am happy to see George on the panel today for Twitter.

The private sector holds a wealth of information and has a vital role to play in preventing, detecting and disrupting terrorism. 

Information sharing between the public and private sectors is still very limited. Law enforcement agencies and financial intelligence units need to invest in developing relationships built on trust, not only with each other, but with the private sector.

In the UK and Australia there are recent examples of innovative new joint taskforces between law enforcement, financial intelligence units and the private sector. These provide a secure mechanism to share classified information, including for the rapid exchange of information ahead of possible attacks. 

FATF has developed a comprehensive set of indicators to help financial institutions detect terrorists and their support networks.  

These indicators also help law enforcement agencies engage with their financial intelligence units, and with financial institutions and money remitters on what kind of activity they should be looking out for. 

I commend Interpol’s strategy to engage with the private sector in commodity markets vulnerable to exploitation by terrorist groups.

I especially welcome Twitter’s active engagement and support. We know that social media platforms are used for recruitment and radicalisation. They also facilitate terrorist financing. In 2015, Ali Shukri Amin was sentenced to 11 years in the US for using Twitter to provide instructions on how to use dark wallets and bitcoin to donate to the mujahedeen.

We must engage with a broad set of private sector participants to pool our knowledge and resources if we are to successfully cut-off all possible sources of terrorist financing.

The Paris attacks demonstrated why we need to improve information sharing, domestically and internationally. The information necessary to detect the financing of terrorism may be held by the authorities but not shared. Information is often scattered and held by different agencies – and these agencies can be reluctant to share intelligence. 

I welcome Interpol’s efforts as part of its CT strategy to strengthen the links between law enforcement and financial intelligence units. Financial intelligence units have become a valuable part of the law enforcement and intelligence community when it comes to fighting terrorism. 

As governments will continue to face severe budgetary constraints, much better collaboration between agencies domestically, across borders, as well as with the private sector, must be a top priority. 

I will close by saying that FATF is building a stronger and more operational partnership with Interpol and others.

FATF work on terrorist financing is closely aligned with Interpol’s priorities.

Our work on understanding the changing nature of the threat; on indicators to help detect terrorist financing; and our focus on breaking down barriers to information sharing; adds to and complements the great work Interpol and law enforcement agencies are doing.

The increasing incidence of small cells and lone actors presents a significant challenge for us all. The need for closer collaboration and coordination has never been more important.

Thank you.