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Experts Say Progress Made in Fighting Terrorist Financing

International experts say progress has been made to curb money laundering and terrorism financing, but more needs to be done.

Officials from the Financial Action Task Force, an inter-governmental body monitoring efforts against money laundering and the financing of terrorism, say criminals continue to find loopholes in the international financial system to move illegal funds.

At the end of a three-day conference in Singapore, FATF president Jean-Louis Fort says the fight against money laundering and terrorism financing is on the right track. But he says governments must step up efforts to make it difficult for money launderers and terrorists to move money around.

The FATF also decided to keep Burma, Nigeria and Nauru on a blacklist of countries that are poorly implementing anti-money laundering measures. The three countries could face sanctions from the FATF's 33 members. The Cook Islands, Indonesia and the Philippines were removed from the blacklist in February because of improvements they made to counter money laundering.

Officials also stressed the importance of more effective monitoring of cash couriers and underground remittance systems, unregulated methods of transferring money from country to country. This issue remains a challenge particularly in Asia, where there are huge populations of migrant workers remitting money to their homeland.

Officials call for continued monitoring of the hawala remittance system common in South Asia and the Middle East - a traditional network of remittance agents that leaves a sparse or confusing paper trail.

Rick McDonell, the head of the Asia Pacific Group - a regional body working against money laundering and terrorism financing, said "one challenge for us in the Asia Pacific region has been to identify who alternative remittance dealers are because they are often not identifiable and not regulated by the government. Another challenge is that they are cheap and efficient and they are attractive to communities to send money through these means."

Mr. McDonell praised Pakistan for implementing measures to identify and regulate remittance agencies and for imposing sanctions against non-regulated operators. He also noted that the cost of remittances through commercial and regulated outlets has sharply decreased in recent years, making the use of hawala less appealing.

Criminals and terrorists often move billions of dollars through layers of transactions to mask their illegal origins.

Since the September 11 terror attacks in the United States, anti-money laundering and anti-terrorism financing measures have taken a greater urgency. The United States has blacklisted at least 400 individuals or organizations since 2001. Once on the U.S. list, a person or group's financial assets in the United States can be frozen and any further financial transactions can be blocked.