Sunday, April 24, 2016

US Blocks Local Bank Transactions in Zimbabwe
Sunday Mail Reporters

The United States government is blocking transactions involving dozens of institutions and individuals as part of an elaborate plan to influence Zimbabwe’s 2018 elections. Information gathered by The Sunday Mail last week shows that Washington has disabled Visa Card and MasterCard transactions of all Zimbabweans on a list of “Politically Exposed Persons”.

Local banks have received a communication on “stiff penalties” that will visit people/institutions that do not enforce the sanctions.

In February, Barclays Bank was fined about US$2,5 million for processing financial transactions involving Zimbabweans and businesses on the list.

Zimbabwe has already lost millions of US dollars to sanctions since January 2016, and tens of billions over the last 15 years.

A senior banker who requested anonymity said, “When you deal with a correspondent bank, they will make sure that such a transaction will be stopped if a person on the sanctions list is involved.

“They have also put all those under sanctions on their money laundering surveillance systems. So, if you are on the sanctions list, you are identified as a money launderer in their system.

‘‘The moment such a person makes a transaction, it is quickly detected and all the money is confiscated.”

Another banker said, “The essence of the issue is that if you are on sanctions, you cannot make an international transaction even if you have a visa card or a master card. This is affecting not only the people on sanctions, but those who are related to people on the list.”

US Harare Embassy Counsellor for Public Affairs Ms Karen Kelley tried to downplay the issue.
“As far as I am concerned, there are no new measures as such. The office for foreign assets control website is usually updated when there are any new clauses in place,” she said.

According to Ofac’s website, failure by banks or individuals to detect transactions made by a person on the list attracts penalties of up to US$1 million per case, or jail terms of up to 20 years.

The office says: “Unless otherwise authorised or exempt, transactions by US persons, or in or involving the United States are prohibited if they involve transferring, paying, exporting, withdrawing, or otherwise dealing in the property or interests in property of an entity or individual listed on the SDN List.

“The property and interests in property of an entity that is 50 percent or more owned, directly or indirectly, by a person on the SDN List are also blocked, regardless of whether the entity itself is listed.

“Civil monetary penalties of up to the greater of US$250 000 or twice the amount of the underlying transaction may be imposed administratively against any person who violates, attempts to violate, conspires to violate, or causes a violation of … the regulations.

“Upon conviction, criminal penalties of up to US$1 000 000, imprisonment for up to 20 years, or both, may be imposed on any person who will fully commits or attempts to commit, or wilfully conspires to commit, or aids or abets in the commission of a violation of the (executive orders) or the regulations.”

The US enacted the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act at the instigation of former British prime minister Tony Blair following a stand-off between Harare and London over land reforms.

The law blocks multi-lateral institutions from providing financial and material aid to Zimbabwe with the broad objective to ruin Zimbabwe’s economy in the hope of triggering a revolt against President Mugabe’s Government.

Mr Blair also got the European Union to pass sanctions, though some of them have been suspended.

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