Thailand has passed new laws to boost efforts to track illegal funds that could finance terrorist organizations. The issue of terrorist funding is on the agenda at a meeting of regional finance ministers gathered in Thailand this week.
The new anti-terrorist laws give Thailand's Anti-Money Laundering Office, or AMLO, wider powers to track illegal funds linked with suspected terrorist organizations.
The agency, which was set up three years ago to stop the laundering of drug money, now is widening its net.
Under the new laws AMLO has set up three special investigation units. One unit will track large transactions, another will hunt corrupt government officials, and a third unit will search for funds associated with suspected terrorist organizations.
The agency's secretary general, Police Colonel Peeraphan Prempooti, says the anti-terrorist financial unit is on the lookout for small, regular transactions that may be suspicious.
"We have been trained that most of the practical transfers would come very small and very often," he said. "So that's why AMLO tells the banks it's their duty to detect suspicious transactions. Sometimes suspicious transactions may come in less than $10,000."
Colonel Peeraphan says after banking transactions are analyzed, the information is passed to the appropriate police and government agencies.
Colonel Peeraphan says AMLO is now investigating possible money transfers by terror suspect Hambali, also known as Riduan Isamuddin. He is thought to be the operations chief of the regional terrorist group Jemaah Islamiyah, and was arrested in Thailand last month.
This week's meeting of Asia-Pacific finance ministers in Phuket, Thailand, will look at ways to limit money laundering and the flow of money to terrorist groups. At the opening of the meeting Thursday, Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra urged Asian nations to cooperate closely to fight terrorism and drug trafficking, which he said, could undermine their economies.
But Pasuk Phongpaichit, an economist at Bangkok's Chulalongkorn University, says terrorist funds make up only a small part of the estimated $20 billion generated by Thailand's underground economy each year.
Dr. Pasuk says the bulk of illegal funds come from gambling, prostitution and drug trafficking.
Thailand's new laws, Dr. Pasuk says, are a first step in tracking down money in the so-called black economy.
"The problems are enormous," said Pasuk Phongpaichit. "You go and look at the records of the AMLO and there have been quite a few prosecutions and seizure of assets, which is a big thing in Thailand. It's a good beginning."
Dr. Pasuk says efforts in recent years to curb the black economy have not yet noticeably reduced illegal activities.