The Arab Bank on Sunday stressed that it has never dealt with the government of North Korea or Tanchon Bank, which the US has accused of being the primary financial agent behind Pyongyang’s weapons programmes. “Based on a review of its customer account and transaction records, Arab Bank does not believe that it has conducted business with the government of North Korea or Tanchon Bank,” a spokesperson from the Arab Bank said.
In a diplomatic cable sent by the US State Department to the US embassy in Amman in August 2007, officials warned that the Arab Bank could be unwittingly assisting proliferation-related transfers between Iran, Syria and North Korea. “We are concerned that Iran, Syria and DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] proliferation entities are using the Arab Bank network to process what may be proliferation-related transactions,” read the cable, released by WikiLeaks on its website at the end of August and viewed by The Jordan Times.
According to the cable, the US knew that as of 2007, North Korea’s Foreign Trade Bank mission in Tripoli, Libya (FTB Libya) had expanded its role in North Korea’s banking network and was helping Tanchon Commercial Bank, the banking arm of North Korea’s primary weapons trading firm, KOMID, to move funds from both Syria and Iran.
It added that in 2007, FTB Libya provided assistance to Tanchon in making remittances from funds from the sale of unspecified, probably proliferation-related goods in Syria.
“Our information indicates that Tanchon is establishing this new arrangement because Tanchon could no longer remit funds through a route it had previously used. FTB Libya arranged remittance routes for Tanchon from Syria and other locations via intermediary banks… We have information that Tanchon’s financial transfers are conducted surreptitiously by using either aliases or front companies,” the US State Department said in the cable.
The US reportedly claimed that the transfers, which were probably proliferation-related, occurred inside the Arab Bank network and involved both Arab Bank branches and the Arab Tunisian Bank, of which, according to the US, the Arab Bank is a 64.2 per cent stakeholder.
“By processing these transactions, Arab Bank could be unwittingly assisting proliferation-related activities,” read the cable.
In the cable, the State Department called on Jordan to maintain vigilance with regard to Syrian, Iranian and North Korean financial transactions in its jurisdiction to prevent these countries from using deceptive financial practices to further their proliferation-related activities, urging appropriate authorities to investigate such transactions.
The Arab Bank spokesperson told The Jordan Times that the bank has not found any records indicating that Jordanian government officials provided it with information concerning surreptitious efforts by North Korea to move funds through its network.
Citing the cable’s reference to “deceptive financial practices” by North Korea, the spokesperson emphasised that without knowing the details of these efforts by North Korea to conceal its financial transactions, it is not possible for Arab Bank or any other bank to address these allegations with any more specificity.
“As noted in the US State Department cable, Arab Bank is one of the ‘most respected banks in the Middle East’, with a network that spans 30 countries and five continents. The bank maintains a state of the art compliance programme, works closely with banking regulators in all countries where it operates, and has a long history of providing safe and secure banking services,” the spokesperson stressed.
A US embassy official in Amman told The Jordan Times last week that the embassy’s policy is not to comment on WikiLeaks cables.