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EghtesadOnline: Amid feverish debate surrounding Iran’s future relationship with the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), more government officials and private sector leaders are speaking strongly in favor of Iran’s continued cooperation with the anti-money laundering initiative.

In his weekly press briefing on Tuesday, government spokesman Mohammad Baqer Nobakht dismissed the propaganda stunts against cooperation with FATF led by the opponents of President Hassan Rouhani, as political jockeying by those who care less about the progress and prosperity of the nation.

“Accusations have been made regarding the FATF that were thoroughly responded to by relevant officials and organizations. Now if they still refuse and insist that they are not convinced, that is something altogether different,” he said, betraying displeasure at the FATF opponents, news outlets reported.

Nobakht, who doubles as the Head of the Management and Planning Organization, emphasized the role of the Supreme National Security Council in making sensitive decisions. “Just like we expect the pulpits of Friday prayers to perform their duties (with responsibility), bodies like the SNSC will handle such issues [as cooperation with FATF].”

In recent weeks some Friday prayer leaders unleashed their own volley of attacks on the government’s agreement with FATF. Some preachers expressed grave concern that cozying up to the Paris-based organization could “compromise the Islamic Republic’s national interest by exposing the country’s financial data to its adversaries, namely the US.”

In response to the backlash, the High Council on Anti-Money Laundering last week issued a statement in defense of collaboration with FATF, saying that meeting the demands of the international body is and will be in line with national security and interests.

“The decision to cooperate with FATF was made by the council with the unanimous consensus of all members, including the minister of economy, the minister of industries, mines and trade, the minister of intelligence and the governor of the Central Bank of Iran,” the statement declared.

Business Community Pitches in

Also commenting on the matter was the Head of Tehran Chamber of Commerce, Industries, Mines and Agriculture who highlighted the benefits of  working with the FATF for Iran’s banking system.

“With the implementation of Iran’s agreement with the FATF, the link between Iranian and international banks will be established sooner and the cost of overseas banking operations will decrease,” Masoud Khansari told IBENA.

Khansari complained that in recent days, the controversy surrounding the issue had taken an increasingly political nature that is unwanted and unhelpful, reports Financial Tribune.

“Based on the law that was passed by the [previous] parliament and subsequently approved by the Guardian Council (the powerful oversight body that vets all laws), the organization responsible for implementing FATF guidelines will be the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Finance,” he said.

“We hope that the ministry proceeds to enact the law as soon as possible and strive to make bank accounts more transparent.”

Khanasari was referring to the Anti-Money Laundering Law: a long-pending bill to counter money laundering and financing of terrorism that was finally ratified by the Guardian Council in March.

 In a move toward upgrading banking and financial laws closer to international norms, the bill that was drafted by the previous government in 2010 and rejected by the Guardian Council several times, was revised and finally became  law on March 3.

Also on Tuesday, a prominent economist added his voice in support of Iran’s collaboration with FATF, reminding the critics that Iran’s economy is dependent on international markets.

“So, without joining the FATF, the country will lose its global trade,” said Saeed Leylaz as reported by banker.ir.

He also noted that membership of the international task force is not exclusive to Rouhani’s government and all previous governments had supported the initiative.

According to the lecturer at Shahid Beheshti University, now the country has two options. “One is to become a member of the international community and its current system, which indeed leaves us with no alternative but to join the FATF,” he said. “The other is isolation similar to North Korea, which would not be possible for Iran due to a variety of cultural, economic and geopolitical reasons.”

Leylaz added that if Iran managed to join more political and geopolitical organizations, it would help lift its economy. The country with a strong economy could make the world economy more dependent on itself that would enable it to resist international pressures more effectively.

“But for the time being, there is no alternative to becoming a FATF member.

FATF Iranian businesses Mohammad Baqer Nobakht FATF Membership