Balkan states under pressure to prosecute terrorist funders
“Due to its geographical location and the non-transparent origin of capital in various investment projects, the risk of terrorist financing in Serbia remains quite high,” Miroslava Milenovic, an expert in financial forensics, told BIRN.
The Financial Action Task Force removed Serbia from its gray list in June 2019, but according to its risk assessment, there is still a “ medium level ” terrorist financing risk in the country.
So far, four people have been convicted of terrorist financing in Serbia – so-called ISIS sympathizers Sead Plojovic, Tefik Mujovic, Rejhan Plojovic and Izudin Crnovrsanin.
The court found that in 2013 and 2014, the men raised money to send recruits to join the Islamic State in Syria and misused donations from religious believers to help fund their illegal project. Money was also sent to help the families of ISIS fighters and to help fighters who had been imprisoned.
In general, many money laundering cases do not reach the courts in Serbia. According to BIRN Serbia’s analysis, less than a fifth of these cases launched in the country between 2008 and 2018 ended up in court.
Those who were found guilty were sentenced to less than a year in prison or a fine of 10,000 dinars (around 85 euros). The most recent data from the Serbian Statistical Office shows that six people were convicted of money laundering in 2019.
A report by Moneyval in December 2019 said Serbia was “compliant” with five recommendations made by the Financial Action Task Force, “broadly compliant” on 31 of them and “partially compliant” on four.
But Milenovic argued that what is more important than legislative compliance is the degree of effectiveness or enforcement of laws in practice.
“This is why, in this second part [of the Moneyval report], Serbia is poorly ranked, ”she said.
Serbia does little to assess “efficiency factors” which include “the number of money laundering investigations, the number of charges and verdicts, and of course the amount of confiscated property,” she added. .
Assessment notes in a Financial Action Task Force report indicate that out of 11 key objectives that should be achieved by an effective money laundering or terrorist financing prevention system, Serbia has a “moderate level” of d efficiency for eight and a “low level” for three.
Milenovic said this shows that Serbia has good legislation on paper and institutions in place to fight money laundering – “but little or nothing is the subject of meaningful prosecution”.
The Serbian authorities believe that the sectors most exposed to money laundering are real estate, industry and banking, followed by exchange bureaus, casinos and accounting firms. High-tech crime is also a growing threat in terms of money laundering.
Milenovic argued that like corruption and organized crime, money laundering has taken root in Serbia.
“Although there is no struggle without discrimination [against money-laundering], while it is normal that ministers have forged degrees and are representatives of offshore companies with significant assets, not to know the cost of everything we pay out of the budget, not to know where the money is coming from. ‘money for the property and lifestyle of many ministers, politicians and public figures, I fear that on the ground, the situation is changing or has cleaned up cosmetically, ”she said.
Meanwhile, attempts to combat the financing of terrorism were also reportedly used for political ends in Serbia. Last year, the Ministry of Finance’s Administration for the Prevention of Money Laundering requested access to the bank data of 20 people and 37 NGOs, including a number of investigative media and organizations. high-level human rights advocate, including BIRN.
Amnesty International described the move as “a blatant act of intimidation and the latest in a campaign by Serbian authorities to silence critics”. The result of the investigation by the Ministry of Finance has not been made public to date.