- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 21, 2018

Key Republican lawmakers are urging Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to push international money-laundering regulators to seal what they say is a loophole that the Obama administration secretly sought to exploit to connect Iran with American banks, despite repeatedly assuring Congress that Tehran would not be given access to the U.S. financial system under the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal.

Next week the Paris-based International financial crime-fighting group Financial Action Task Force (FATF) will meet for its plenary session. The 37-nation group was set up by the G7 industrial powers to combat money laundering and terrorism financing.

On Thursday, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, California Republican, and Senate subcommittee on investigations chair Rob Portman, Ohio Republican, wrote to Mr. Munuchin and implored him to raise the loophole issue at FATF’s meeting.

Earlier this month, Mr. Portman’s subcommittee issued a report that accused the former administration of intentionally keeping Congress in the dark when officials subverted remaining U.S. sanctions on Iran in February 2016 to issue a special license for a currency conversion to a major Omani bank and unsuccessfully pressure two U.S. banks to partake in the transaction.

While former Obama administration officials slammed the GOP-led report as “wildly overblown,” Mr. Royce praised it as confirming “what we already knew: the Obama administration tried to hide a secret push to give the ayatollah access to the U.S. dollar.”

In their letter Thursday, Mr. Royce and Mr. Portman explained to Mr. Mnuchin that “in the push to save its deeply flawed nuclear deal, the Obama administration unwisely backed a wide range of economic relief for Iran — including through the FATF.”

They argue that since 2016, FATF officials have allowed Tehran to delay submitting a plan to address concerns over its money laundering and terrorist financing issues, “despite the continued dangerous and belligerent actions of the Iranian regime.”

“The United States should now utilize its influence within the FATF to reimpose countermeasures against Iran and protect the international financial system,” Mr. Royce and Mr. Portman wrote.

Last month President Trump withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal, which had been considered a signature foreign policy achievement of the Obama administration. The deal restricted Tehran’s nuclear ambitions in return for ending tight financial sanctions.

Since then Trump administration officials have issued severe warnings to foreign governments and companies to avoid doing business with Iran or find themselves caught in the crosshairs of Washington’s reimposed sanctions.

“Companies doing business in Iran face substantial risks, and those risks are even greater as we reimpose nuclear-related sanctions,” Treasury Department undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence Sigal Mandelker, said in early June, adding that foreign governments needed to be wary of “deceptive” Iranian transactions that ultimately channel money to terrorists.

• Guy Taylor contributed to this report.

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