Feature: Anti-money laundering, restricting electronic money transfers anger Gazans

January 10, 2012 11:52 pm 

GAZA, Jan. 10 — Yousef Mohamed, a student from Gaza, was upset when he was informed that electronic money transfer from abroad to private money exchange offices in Gaza was restricted. Yousef used to get cash from his father who lives in Norway through Western Union.

The Western Union, based in the United States, had suddenly decided to stop dealing with private offices or money exchange offices in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip which mediate delivering cash to the coastal enclave residents, electronically transferred from abroad via the worldwide money company.

"The decision made me very mush disappointed. My father, who lives and works in Norway, used to send me 500 U.S. dollars every month via Western Union, so now I won't be able to receive the money that helps me cover my living costs and expenses," said Yousef.

The decision was to stop dealing with private offices, but left the door open to send electronic wire transfers through banks that are internationally recognized. Therefore, Yousef has to get his monthly payment from his father through a bank instead of private exchange money offices in Gaza.

Following angry argument with the employee in charge at the money exchange office, Yousef said "it is unfair and unbearable that those Americans think of how to turn our life into hell all the time. I really feel embarrassed and I don't know what new measures will be applied to the bank in the future."

An official source at the Bank of Housing for Commerce and Finance told Xinhua on condition of anonymity that the bank had suddenly decided to withdrew all the licenses from the branches and money exchange offices in the Gaza Strip, which deal with electronic money transfers.

"The Western Union but not the bank made the decision, aiming at imposing more restrictions on the process of electronic money transfers from and to the Gaza Strip," said the source. Hamas movement has been ruling the Gaza Strip since it took control of it by force in June 2007.

The source went on saying that the aim of the sudden decision was to fight money laundering, adding that the Western Union has concerns of neglect processes that may follow cashing the electronic money transferred through money exchange offices.

The population of the Gaza Strip usually rely on these offices to transfer or receive money quickly and to avoid the complicated procedures of local banks. The Western Union has been dealing with customers in the Gaza Strip in receiving and transferring money for more than ten years.

Abu Farook al-Torok, owner of a local money exchange office in Gaza city, told Xinhua that the decision was "unfair," adding that he and all his colleagues were not informed or notified on the decision that "would lead to big losses in Gaza's economy."

Mohamed al-Hasaynah, owner of another big money exchange office in Gaza city's downtown, told Xinhua that the decision of Western Union to stop electronic money transfer "would harm tens of thousands of Palestinians who depend on these transfers to live their daily life."

"The decision was stupid and astonishing. To justify it by saying that it was made to fight money laundry is ridiculous," al- Hasaynah said, adding that "money transfers are not that big for each individual, who are using the money for living and covering their living costs."

According to the law, each electronic money transfer through Western Union should not be more than 3,000 U.S. dollars. Owners of money exchange offices said the actual measures were applied at the end of the 22-day Israeli operation Cast Lead on Gaza in the end of 2008.

Officials in Gaza said that withdrawing licenses of all money exchange offices in Gaza Strip had led to reducing the number of these offices by 60 percent, while the decision to completely stop the process could result in the closure of most of these offices.

During the Israeli attack on Gaza, several money exchange offices and stores in Gaza were bombarded. Israel claimed that those offices are used by Hamas and other militant groups to receive money transferred from Hamas supporters all over the world.

However, the Gazans could use other international money transfer companies such as Money Gram and Money Express instead of Western Union. However, negative effects are expected, and some people worry that those alternative companies might close, too.

Jihad al-Wazeer, chief of the Palestinian Monetary Authorities, told Xinhua that his office was officially informed about the decision of Western Union, adding that his office began to try to find solutions and learn more about the legal sides of the decision as well as its consequences.

Meanwhile, Mo'en Rajab, professor of economy in the Gaza-based al-Azhar University, told Xinhua that the Western Union decision is part of a series of measures taken to restrict the monetary system of the Gaza Strip, and "it is obvious that it is part of the U.S. and Israeli sanctions on Gaza."

The monetary system in the Gaza Strip has faced heavy restrictions imposed by Israel and the international community, mainly the United States, to fight Hamas movement. (PNA/Xinhua)



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