- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 17, 2006

SINGAPORE (AP) — The global financial community must work to prevent illicit activities that support terrorism, U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. said yesterday, pressing a theme in which he singled out Iran and North Korea as two countries that benefit from front companies and illicit financial dealings.

“Protecting the financial system from abuse by terrorist and illicit financiers is integral to international financial stability and global security,” Mr. Paulson told members of the International Monetary Fund’s policy committee.

Mr. Paulson attended his first meeting of Group of Seven (G-7) finance ministers and central bankers on Saturday in Singapore, where he said they were in broad agreement on the need to protect the financial system from the threat of subversion.

At a press conference after the G-7 meeting, Mr. Paulson cited intelligence — some of which he said was declassified — in claiming that Iran employs shady tactics to obtain technology to support terror and procure weapons of mass destruction.

He said Iran uses “more than 30 front companies,” but he did not identify them.

“There’s a broad network of front companies” of “mundane sounding businesses that do many legitimate activities, but in addition they do some of these untoward and illicit activities,” Mr. Paulson said.

The Bush administration also says North Korea has used illicit financial dealings for weapons proliferation and counterfeiting U.S. currency.

“We discussed the need to take action to disrupt terrorist and illicit finance related to specific threats from North Korea and Iran,” Mr. Paulson said at the conclusion of the one-day meeting of the G-7, which met on the sidelines of the IMF-World Bank meeting here.

Other G-7 members are Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan.

Washington wants the United Nations to impose sanctions against Iran unless the Middle Eastern country stops enriching uranium, a key step in making nuclear weapons. Iran counters that it has the right to acquire nuclear technology.

Earlier this month, Washington imposed a ban on U.S. bank transactions with Iran’s Bank Saderat, insisting that Tehran is channeling funds to terrorists through the state-owned bank.

“We had extensive evidence that Bank Saderat was involved in financing terrorism and we sanctioned it,” Mr. Paulson said Saturday.

The Bush administration also has been leading international efforts to persuade North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program.

Last year, Washington blacklisted Banco Delta Asia, based in the Chinese territory of Macau, and several North Korean companies it said were involved in illicit activities such as counterfeiting, money laundering and funding weapons proliferation.

Mr. Paulson did not provide specifics on what the G-7 discussed regarding disrupting threats from Iran and North Korea.

“Given the threat out there,” he said, it is necessary “to be vigilant to identify the people that would try to infiltrate the banking system and to keep them from gaining access to it.”

That could best be done, he said he told his G-7 colleagues, through raising awareness so finance officials at banks and in government don’t unknowingly allow themselves to get involved with companies engaged in illicit financing.

“The point that I made to the finance ministers is that we have a job to do, an educational job,” said Mr. Paulson, former head of investment bank Goldman Sachs, who assumed his position in July.

Britain’s top finance official, Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown, said yesterday his country had instituted measures to identify suspicious transactions.

“I can only say this: that we will work with the American government and other authorities to deal with anything that is illicit,” Mr. Brown said.

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