Two decades after 9/11 British authorities continue to allow Taliban to launder money in the UK

·4 min read
Two former US Government officials spoke to The Telegraph as the Taliban cemented its grip on Afghanistan, having swept back into power last month after 20 years of western military presence - SETH MCALLISTER/AFP
Two former US Government officials spoke to The Telegraph as the Taliban cemented its grip on Afghanistan, having swept back into power last month after 20 years of western military presence - SETH MCALLISTER/AFP

UK authorities are still allowing the Taliban to launder its money in the UK 20 years after 9/11 because of their inability to take on the City, a former White House intelligence chief has said.

Robert Greenway, a senior director at the National Security Council, said Britain missed opportunities to prevent the militant group and its associates from using London as a money-laundering hub, and of preventing donations from sympathisers.

He is one of two former US Government officials to speak publicly about the frustration in Washington in recent years over the UK’s failure to act.

Another, Gretchen Peters, who now runs the Center on Illicit Networks and Transnational Organized Crime, revealed she was part of a 2012 US delegation to London to “beg” the Government to take the issue seriously.

They spoke to The Telegraph as the Taliban cemented its grip on Afghanistan, having swept back into power last month after 20 years of western military presence.

British authorities 'ran into obstacles'

Mr Greenway described British counter-terror officials as “committed”, but said: "Activities and actions have been more problematic because when you’re doing business in London, which is a corporation not a city in my experience, it becomes really problematic to take effective law enforcement action.

“My sense is the British authorities were always enthusiastic but they ran into obstacles, just because of the way that the laws and the authorities were configured, in and around London in particular.”

The former special forces officer and intelligence advisor to General David Patreus, now a fellow at the Hudson Institute, pointed to the existence of hawalas, unregulated money networks used widely in the Arab word and south Asia, and the exchange houses which facilitate them.

He said the networks are used by the Taliban’s Pakistani affiliates to infiltrate the group's money - much of it made from drugs - into the legitimate global financial system, ending up in hubs such as London, often via the Gulf.

Hawalas, many of which have brokers or “hawaladars” in the UK, are also used by Taliban sympathisers to wire donations directly from the west.

Networks funding terror common knowledge in intelligence circles

The potential of the networks to fund terror have been common knowledge in intelligence circles for the best part of 20 years and were extensively discussed in the 9/11 Commission Report.

The same report found that al-Qaeda operatives had kept funds in the UK in the years before the devastating attack.

It was also the subject of a 2012 report by the United Nations Security Council.

However, Ms Peters said that hawala networks suspected of being involved in Taliban and other terror funding via the UK were “100 per cent still happening”.

“When I was working for the DoD (Department of Defense) we came over to London and met with the Brits about this,” she said.

“There was really never a comprehensive effort to follow the money around Taliban drug trafficking - I begged for it to happen.”

Taking on more sophisticated terror financing could 'open a can of worms'

The US has had some success against financial networks, such as persuading the UAE Central Bank to revoke the license of the Al Zarooni Exchange for violations of anti-money laundering regulations.

Ms Peters also echoed her former colleague’s concern about the ability of UK authorities to take on more sophisticated terror financing.

“Because the City of London has become such a major centre for money laundering generally, there is a hesitancy on the part of the British to open that can of worms to look too closely,” she said.

In January Graeme Biggar, director general of the National Economic Crime Centre, warned the City that up to half of all dirty money being laundered by Russia is being done so through the UK.

Dr Rakib Ehsan, a research fellow at the Henry Jackson Society, a London think tank, said: “We know that much of the financial and logistical support the Taliban has received comes from Pakistan, but that the ultimate origin of some of that is in the West.

“That’s something that we as a country haven’t been as urgent as we should have been in terms of clamping down on those transfer activities.

“This is something we have to take very seriously.”

A Taliban fighter stands guard as Afghan women shout slogans during an anti-Pakistan protest rally, near the Pakistan embassy in Kabul - AFP
A Taliban fighter stands guard as Afghan women shout slogans during an anti-Pakistan protest rally, near the Pakistan embassy in Kabul - AFP

A government spokesman said: “It is wrong to suggest the Government isn’t taking action to help prevent the funding of terrorism.

“In light of the situation in Afghanistan, we have engaged with businesses in the region about the increased risks criminals seeking to exploit them to launder money or finance terrorism.

“More widely, the UK Government, law enforcement and the financial sector are cracking down on terrorist financing through the Joint Money Laundering Intelligence Task Force, which shares intelligence allowing us to better detect and prevent the movement of terrorist funds.”

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting