Financial ‘Noose’ Of FATF Divides Iran Presidential Candidates
The long-debated issue of Iran’s accession to the rules of the international financial watchdog, the Paris-based Financial Action Taskforce (FATF), has emerged to divide the seven candidates running in the controversial June 18 presidential election. One described the FATF as "a noose" around the country's neck.
Iran has been on the FATF blacklist, along with North Korea, since February 2018 for failing to pass legislation introducing transparency regulations designed to combat money-laundering, corruption, and financing of ‘terrorism.’ All FATF members – who host most of the world’s financial centers – are required to exercise enhanced diligence and counter-measures against blacklisted states.
Proponents of FATF accession, including President Hassan Rouhani, argue it is needed to expand Iran’s international trade, even if current United States sanctions are not eased. Hardliners and some principlists argue that such transparency would make Iran vulnerable to US sanctions and curb its ability to circumvent sanctions or support proxy groups, such as the Lebanese Hezbollah. Officials in the Rouhani administration and some reformists have also accused principlists of having a vested interest in practices designed to circumvent sanctions.
Speaking at a session with university students on Wednesday [June 2], hardliner Alireza Zakani said FATF accession was not crucial to the economy and that US sanctions hurt Iran because Rouhani's “incapable” government had counted too much on economic dealings with the US and Europe. "The FATF is like a noose that we want to put around our own necks," he said.
Abdolnasser Hemmati, the former central bank governor backed by the centre-right Executives of Construction party, on May 29 expressed clear support for signing up to the FATF. Also backing accession, reformist Mohsen Mehralizadeh in a discussion on the Clubhouse application Friday accused Chief Justice Ebrahim Raeesi (Raisi), widely seen as the election frontrunner, and other principlists of "putting a spoke in the wheels of nuclear talks and FATF [accession]."
Mehralizadeh promised to make Raeesi and the four other principlist candidates explain why they had resisted both reviving the 2015 nuclear agreement with world powers and joining the FATF.
Other than Zakani, principlist candidates seem unsure over raising the FATF as an election issue. Raeesi has not made any comments on accession of late. In 2018, he said joining "the enemies' conventions" such as the FATF would not ensure they ended hostility against Iran. He said the FATF had refused to accept Iran’s argument that it was wrong to list certain groups as ‘terrorists.’
Saeed Jalili, the former top security official, has apparently not mentioned the FATF since the election began. In a tweet March 3 he accused Rouhani’s government of neglecting "the principal problems of the economy" and "investing hope in a foreign body.” He said the government neglected “economic opportunities for the country…[while diverting] public opinion to the [belief that] problems can be solved through FATF accession.”
Another presidential candidate, Mohsen Rezaei (Rezaee), has a particular role in FATF accession as Secretary of the Expediency Council, which arbitrates between state bodies and which for two years has sat on two bills designed to meet FATF rules after they were passed by parliament − then supportive of the Rouhani government − but rejected by the watchdog Guardian Council.
In a campaign meeting with private-sector business leaders including members of the Chamber of Commerce June 1, Rezaei said the Expediency Council was keeping open the issue of FATF accession and that if elected president he would reach decisions after "clarification of ambiguities." He blamed the delay on the government not responding to the council's queries.
Government Spokesman Mahmoud Vaezi told the IRNA news agency Friday that voters were aware that Rezaei and others who had stalled the bills were now claiming they would resolve the issue. "The government had the will [to join the FATF] but they tied it to the sanctions and now they are tying sanctions to the FATF." In March Vaezi described lack of action to leave the FATF blacklist as “self-sanctioning.”