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Does UNRWA Break (Law) with Commercial Bank of Syria, Ging Answers for Ban

Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at the UN: News Analysis

UNITED NATIONS, April 3 -- When UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was on Capitol Hill on March 11, he was asked if the UN Relief and Works Agency has accounts with the Commercial Bank of Syria, which is on US anti-money laundering lists. Inner City Press asked Ban's head of Peacekeeping, Alain Le Roy, to confirm that the issue arose in Ban's meeting with the House Foreign Affairs Committee. It was asked, Le Roy confirmed, and Ban said he would look into it. Inner City Press asked Ban's Deputy Spokesperson about it again on March 17, and she read out a prepared answer:

UNRWA maintains its primary banking relationships -– and all donor contributions –- with reputable international banks, including JPMorgan Chase, BNP Paribas and Bank Austria Vienna.  The Agency distributes on a weekly basis to field offices operationally required funds to banks in the relevant area of operations.  In this context, UNRWA uses the Arab Bank for transactions in the West Bank and the Commercial Bank of Syria, which until recently held a State monopoly on all banking operations in Syria and remains the only bank to provide the full extent of services throughout the country, for local transactions, such as the payment of staff salary.

   Thus, the UN said it was still using Commercial Bank of Syria, and said it was the only bank it could use.

   On April 3, UNRWA's chief of Gaza operations John Ging held a press conference in New York. On this, Inner City Press asked if it is appropriate for UNRWA to be using a bank on US anti-money laundering lists. Ging answered that the question was "above his pay grade," but went on to say that UNRWA would never do anything illegal, and that the issue "is established" with the U.S. Departments of State and Treasury. Video here, from Minute 1:06:52.

Commercial Bank of Syria, UNRWA accounts
being closed not shown

  From this, most concluded that the allegations about CBS were wrong, that dealing with it was legal and would continue. But in fact, Ging the previous day in Washington had said that

"UNRWA has stopped using the Commercial Bank of Syria for financial transactions, which the United States says has been used by terrorists to transfer funds. He said the agency used the institution because it had a "massive network of offices," but has conferred with U.S. State and Treasury department officials in recent weeks and is now looking for a different bank."

   So on this the question is, is it that UNRWA would never do anything illegal, or would stop once it was spotlighted, but after the UN reflexively defended the practice?

Footnote: Ging stayed after Friday's briefing and answered more questions. Inner City Press asked about reports that Fatah is blocking the release of Gaza patients needing treatment outside the Strip. Ging to his credit agreed that this was happening, and said UNRWA is trying to solve the problem by accompanying patients. He also committed to provide information about UNRWA's request for cash to get into the Gaza strip, to pay a long list of pending bill that can apparently only be paid in cash. The information will be reviewed and reported upon receipt.

  Click here for a new YouTube video, mostly UN Headquarters footage, about civilian deaths in Sri Lanka.

Click here for Inner City Press' March 27 UN debate

Click here for Inner City Press March 12 UN (and AIG bailout) debate

Click here for Inner City Press' Feb 26 UN debate

Click here for Feb. 12 debate on Sri Lanka

Click here for Inner City Press' Jan. 16, 2009 debate about Gaza

Click here for Inner City Press' review-of-2008 UN Top Ten debate

Click here for Inner City Press' December 24 debate on UN budget, Niger

Click here from Inner City Press' December 12 debate on UN double standards

Click here for Inner City Press' November 25 debate on Somalia, politics

and this October 17 debate, on Security Council and Obama and the UN.

* * *

These reports are usually also available through Google News and on Lexis-Nexis.

Click here for a Reuters AlertNet piece by this correspondent about Uganda's Lord's Resistance Army. Click here for an earlier Reuters AlertNet piece about the Somali National Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an undefined trust fund.  Video Analysis here

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