Suspected arms dealers moved millions in Somali money transfers, report says
18 Sep 2020

Somali money transfer companies moved more than $3.7 million in cash between suspected weapons traffickers in recent years, including to a Yemeni under U.S. sanctions for alleged militant links, according to a report seen by Reuters.

The findings by a Geneva-based research group, the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime, could further complicate attempts by Somali transfer companies to retain access to international banking services.

Though they provide a lifeline to millions in the anarchic Horn of Africa nation, few banks will do business with them because of the risk of falling foul of international transparency and anti-money laundering regulations.

Asked about the report, the Central Bank of Somalia, which regulates money transfer firms, said it was unaware of the transfers but would investigate and was in general making progress in countering terrorism financing.

Contacted by Reuters, the four companies said they adhered to global “know your customer” norms, although some conceeded it was difficult since Somalia had no national identity card. The firms also said they used specialist third-party databases of internationally-sanctioned individuals.

The Global Initiative analysed nearly six years of transaction records from the city of Bossasso, matching them with mobile phone records provided by security sources and database searches.

The report identified 176 transactions from the last six years that it said appeared to be linked to suspected weapons dealers in Somalia and Yemen. Nearly two-thirds were over the $10,000 threshold that should trigger an automatic report to regulatory authorities.

They include two transfers totalling nearly $40,000 to numbers linked to Sayf Abdulrab Salem al-Hayashi after the U.S. Treasury sanctioned him in 2017 for allegedly providing weapons and financial support to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and Islamic State in Yemen, the report said.

Al Hayashi could not be reached for comment.

Somalia-based Amal Express and Iftin Express handled the transactions, which used different combinations of his name and nickname, the report said.

Amal Express said a transfer slip shown in the report and allegedly linked to al Hayashi was a forgery. Iftin Express said the transaction slip was a fake and added that it reported all transactions over $10,000 to Somali authorities.

By Katharine Houreld, Reuters, 17 September 2020

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