I know that AML and CFT go together. I’m not convinced that they belong together, but I am swimming against the tide, which seems to favour putting all financial crime into the same category. And so I am careful to make sure that my training always acknowledges terrorist financing as well as my one true love, money laundering. As I see it, the most frightening aspect of terrorist financing is how little money is needed to do so much damage – and therefore, from the MLRO’s perspective, how fiendishly difficult it is to spot.
As an example, we have this recent case. On 28 September 2017, Frenchwoman Nathalie Haddadi was found guilty of terrorist financing and sentenced to two years in prison. Her son, Belabbas Bounaga, was radicalised while serving a prison sentence for drug dealing, and on his release in 2015 he went to stay with his father in Algeria. From there he travelled to Malaysia, and eventually went to Syria. While he was in Algeria and Malaysia, his mum (who has a job in marketing) sent him money – thousands of euros. She sent most of it to pay, Belabbas told her, for his medical treatment in Malaysia. She told the court she knew nothing of his plans to go to Syria; the first she heard of it was when someone called her from there in 2016 to tell her that her son had died a martyr, at the age of twenty-one. The judge said that she was lying, and “without your substantial help he would not have been able to reach Syria so easily and fight with Islamic State – you financed a terrorist organisation”.
Now I have no idea whether Haddadi knew of her son’s desire to fight for Daesh, or whether she supported him or begged him to come home. But I do know that any bank or money transfer business sending a few thousand euros from a concerned (and gainfully employed) mum in France to an unwell son in Algeria or Malaysia would probably not look twice at the transactions. So insignificant, and yet so devastating.