- December 30th, 18:50--Three of Israel's five leading
banks are under investigation by French authorities as part of a larger,
ongoing probe of a money-laundering network between France and Israel.
- The network used Jewish charitable institutions and cultural
institutions based in France to process illegally-acquired money.
- An executive from Bank Leumi France SA is among those
under investigation, alongside workers from Israel Discount Bank and the
First International Bank of Israel according to recent reports. In November
French officials said there were some 80 suspects in the case including
six rabbis. Six people are reportedly already in jail.
- "The misuse of banks by money laundering networks"
is the judicial inquiry's focus said Leumi's French spokesman, noting that
no charges have been placed.
- The French media reported that both Israel Discount Bank
and First International Bank of Israel are also under investigation by
French authorities regarding their possible involvement in a money-laundering
network since 1996.
- A Bank Discount spokeswoman said the bank was "cooperating
with [investigators] in whatever ways" they could. She denied the
bank's involvement with the affair.
- FIBI's spokesman denied that the bank has been under
- "No one came to ask us questions," he said,
adding, "We don't even have any business activities in France."
- "Investigators are interested in the flow of checks
from Israeli banks, including Discount Bank...passing through France,"
French daily Le Monde reported recently. "Large withdrawals were made
from checks delivered this way."
- Sources said that the Israeli banks were being checked
as part of a larger investigation but insisted that their involvement had
been only technical, with the Israeli banks clearing the checks in question
rather than cashing them.
- They noted that the focus of the investigation was not
on the Israeli banks but on a number of other banks including the French
branch of Barclays, Societe Generale SA, France's third-largest bank, BRED,
part of the Banques Populaires group, and Societe Marseillaise de Credit,
owned by the UK's HSBC.
- Leumi last month saw the manager of its Swiss operations
removed by the banking regulator for violating money-laundering laws by
accepting assets from Peruvian spy chief, Vladimiro Montesinos.
- The increased spotlight that Israeli banks have received
recently due to money laundering allegations is unlikely to speed up Israel's
removal from the Financial Action Task Force black list in February 2002.
Expectations of coming off the black list have also been dampened by the
replacement of anti-money laundering head Lior Horev by Yehuda Schaeffer
last month when Horev fell out with the Justice Ministry over the slow
pace of implementation of the unit, which is not yet fully operational.
- In addition to Israel, the FATF blacklist includes the
Cook Islands, Dominica, Egypt, Guatemala, Hungary, Indonesia, Lebanon,
Marshall Islands, Myanmar, Nauru, Nigeria, Niue, the Philippines, Russia,
St. Kitts and Nevis, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
- Copyright © 2001 The Jerusalem Post.