Cyprus hits back at Bin Ladin money-laundering slur
Cyprus hit back Tuesday, September 18, at charges by a former CIA director that the island was a haven for the ill-gotten gains of Usama Bin Ladin, wanted by Washington for last week's devastating terrorist attacks.
James Woolsey told Italian newspaper La Repubblica that Cyprus was a refuge for bin Laden's dirty money. "Now the pressure on financial havens begins. We are asking them to coordinate their activities with us, but there are some countries that are reluctant to cooperate, and the worst of all is Cyprus," he alleged.
Woolsey was CIA chief under the Bill Clinton administration from 1993 to January 1995. "If Mr. Woolsey believes Bin Ladin's treasure is here, then the problem of international terrorism is solved," Cyprus Foreign Minister Yiannakis Cassoulides told state television.
He added: "He (Woolsey) should come here himself, tell me where it is and I will personally hand it over to him." The minister accused the ex-CIA man of "negligence" for not offering information about where Bin Ladin's money was. "Who is this Woolsey? ... He should be punished with a 400-year prison term," said an irate Cassoulides.
At a news conference, Central Bank governor Afxentis Afxentiou described the allegations as "malicious and unfounded", insisting there were "no Cyprus companies directly or indirectly connected to Bin Ladin".
Spyros Stavrinakis, another senior official of the bank, told AFP that Washington had approached the Cypriot authorities two months ago and asked for information about bin Laden's money. "They did not have specifics about accounts or transactions. So it's like looking for a needle in a haystack."
The US government, meanwhile, distanced itself from the latest charges. "James Woolsey left government service in 1995. His personal views do not represent the policies of the US government," US embassy spokesman Walter Douglas told AFP.
Cyprus has long been branded a money-laundering center despite repeated denials of the Nicosia government, but it has managed to stay off tax haven blacklists. It was strongly associated with deposed Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic's money laundering activities during his 10-year reign.
The only link to Bin Ladin the Cypriot authorities accept is that one of his brothers owns three Limassol-based offshore companies related to the construction industry. "His brother has three companies here but he lives in Switzerland and he is clean," said the bank official.
Cyprus is a leading candidate for EU enlargement and abides by the EU's anti-money laundering policy. However, Woolsey told La Repubblica: "We have asked our friends in Brussels to hold talks on Cyprus and to tell the island's leaders: 'You will enter the European Union, but not before 3-4,000 years have elapsed, unless you immediately provide full information about bin Laden's money'."
Earlier this year there were allegations in a New York court that Bin Ladin used the island for illegal gun running and money-laundering operations. The assertions sparked a probe ordered by Attorney General Alecos Markides which found no Cyprus connection to the suspected terrorist mastermind. The Cypriot authorities argue that any illegal fundamentalist activity must be to do with Islamic banks in the Turkish-controlled north of the island. — (AFP, Nicosia)
by Charlie Charalambous
© Agence France Presse 2001
© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)
- Turkish PM warns EU off '\'corruption, money-laundering'\' in Cyprus
- Cyprus is tough on money-laundering but struggles to shake off bad image
- Cyprus traces Milosevic-linked money laundering
- Cyprus charges Turkish-held north is '\'breeding ground'\' for terrorists
- Cyprus revokes license of Yugoslav bank owned by Karic family