8 Mar 2016

Spike in suspected terror payments

8:39 pm on 8 March 2016

The number of financial transactions suspected of being linked to terrorism has almost doubled in the past two years.

Information released to RNZ News by the police has shown a rise from 21 cases in 2014 to 40 in 2015.

The latest figure, for this financial year, is already at 24.

A hand enters account details on a laptop (file)

Photo: TEK IMAGE / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY / ABO / Science Photo Library

The information, released under the Official Information Act by the police's financial intelligence unit, did not spell out how much money was involved, where it was going or exactly why it was linked to terrorism.

In general, the sorts of transactions that come under the category of possibly being linked to terrorism include:

It was not clear whether the increase was because of an actual rise in suspicious payments, or whether there was just more reporting because of the Anti-Money Laundering and Countering Financing of Terrorism Act 2009 (AML/CFT Act).

The act didn't come into force until 2013 and brought in a more rigorous monitoring regime.

Banks, financial companies, building societies, insurance companies, casinos and fund managers as well as other financial organisations must report STRs (suspicious transaction reports) possibly linked to terrorism to the Financial Intelligence Unit.

The supervisors of the banks and other organisations in that group are the Reserve Bank, Internal Affairs and the Financial Markets Authority.

The supervisors must provide financial organisations with guidance and training.

In 2015, Morgan Chase Bank's New Zealand branch and Kiwibank were each given a public formal warning by the Reserve Bank for not complying with the act.

In 2014, one private formal warning was issued.

The Reserve Bank, which declined to be interviewed, said in a statement that it had conducted further on-site inspections to make sure those entities complied.

36th Parallel Assessments security analyst Paul Buchanan said New Zealand was seen as a soft target for financial transactions linked to terrorism because the act had so many loopholes.

A massive number of transactions possibly linked to terrorism could get through without being picked up, Dr Buchanan said.

"The number of those transactions are relatively low given the overall number of transactions that have been flagged, but one terrorism financial transaction is one too many.

"The fact that we now have dozens being reported on an annual basis indicates that there is some reason to be concerned that there are people here, as we've been told by the government, who adhere to extremist ideologies abroad.

"If they're not going to fight, they're certainly using or attempting to use the financial system to aid and abet those who are."

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