HC Deb 28 February 2002 vol 380 cc828-30
7. Mr. Jim Murphy (Eastwood)

If he will make a statement on the progress made by Customs and Excise in tracing the assets and bank accounts of proscribed terrorist organisations. [35748]

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Ruth Kelly)

Customs and Excise is one of the many investigative and law enforcement agencies that are actively engaged in the fight against terrorism—in particular, by disrupting and cutting off the finances of terrorist organisations. Since 11 September, the Government have ordered the freezing of the assets of more than 200 individuals and 100 organisations, undermining and preventing access to the sources of terrorist financing. We will continue to give priority to closing down all sources of such financing.

Mr. Murphy

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer and pay tribute to her and my right hon. Friend the Chancellor for the leading role that they are playing. She will be aware that one of the difficulties faced by the international community is the different interpretations of what is a proscribed terrorist organisation. For example, the UK rightly proscribes Hezbollah, but the European Union does not as yet do so. Can she tell the House whether the moneys seized from these terrorist organisations are being retained by the Treasury? Would not a more sensible course of action be to ensure that the money seized from al-Qaeda is invested in Afghan reconstruction and that money from Hamas is used to help Palestinian poverty reduction? I believe that such measures would be constructive and very welcome indeed.

Ruth Kelly

I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. As he knows, it is incredibly important to track down terrorist financing, whatever its source. The UK remains committed to doing exactly that, but of course, we also remain committed, for example, to the reconstruction of Afghanistan—one of the good causes to which he drew attention. We stand ready, together with our neighbours, to provide all the assistance and humanitarian relief that Afghanistan needs.

My hon. Friend also drew attention to the use of funds that are frozen by the Treasury. Those funds are not the property of the UK Government and we certainly cannot decide arbitrarily to use them for good causes. However, we must, in conjunction with the international community, regularly review whether such freezing orders should still apply. I can tell the House that the UN sanctions committee decided last month to review the asset-freezing sanctions against the central bank of Afghanistan. It is our intention to work urgently and closely with the new, legitimate Afghan Government to return the bulk of the £70 million that had been frozen against the country's Government previously.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

Is it not reprehensible that a terrorist organisation that is probably the most murderous in the world and has killed tens of thousands of people and kidnapped many more, including most recently the brave presidential candidate, Ingrid Betancourt in Colombia—namely, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—is not a proscribed organisation under the terms of the Terrorism Act 2000? Nor is any murderous terrorist organisation in Latin America, such as Sendero Luminoso, proscribed under the 2000 Act. Is that not a scandal, and does it not fatally inhibit the vital work of Customs and Excise in freezing the assets of this murderous organisation, which is involved in drug dealing and kidnapping?

Ruth Kelly

The hon. Gentleman will be well aware that a UN sanctions order must be carried out by consensus among the 15 members of the Security Council; it is, in effect, a political decision to freeze the assets of individuals, organisations or states and can be appealed against in the usual way by individuals or organisations. We must gain an international consensus in that forum to take such measures. That is what we are committed to doing against any organisation, individual or state in respect of which we can prove a link to terrorist financing, and we remain at the forefront of international efforts in that regard.

Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

The Minister will be aware that the distinction between proscribed and other terrorist organisations is a shambles anyway, because non-proscribed organisations are also in receipt of such funds. We should congratulate those forces in our country that are doing something about this matter. May I press her on whether there have been discussions at an international level dealing with fiscal crime—primarily, such crime is money laundering in the name of terrorism and organisations—and on whether we can now obtain extradition orders to bring back to this country those who are guilty of some of the crimes that we are fighting?

Ruth Kelly

Before 11 September and subsequently, the United Kingdom has been at the forefront of measures in the fight not only against terrorism but money laundering in general. We are working with the G7 in the international arena to develop measures and encourage countries to fulfil international standards against money laundering and terrorist financing. We are also working with our overseas territories and Crown dependencies to ensure that they meet the tough international standards.

Hon. Members know that we completed consideration of the Proceeds of Crime Bill last night. It will enable our authorities to take tough action against money laundering and reduce the complexities that were inherent in the system. We are therefore working domestically and internationally to crack down on money laundering and terrorist funding wherever it occurs.

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