Indians whose belief is Islam face delays in ‘instant’ money transfers
By Riyasbabu, Khaleej Times, 20 June 2006
DUBAI — Indian Muslims living in the UAE have voiced their concern over the alleged delay and blocking of remittances to their homes sent through Western Union's Instant Money transfer service, following an anti-terror financing regulation imposed a few years ago by the Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC), an unit of the US treasury department.
OFAC started to control and monitor money transactions across the world in a bid to stop the flow of money to terrorist organisations following the 9/11 attack. OFAC has published the names of suspected terror organisations and individuals banned from receiving money in any form.
According to Rahman, an Indian expatriate hailing from Kerala who tried to remit money to a friend in India from Alukkas Money Exchange in Bur Dubai, an agent of Western Union was informed that the delivery of money will be delayed if he sent it in the name of Muhammad. "I filled the remittance form and presented to the counter staff of the exchange. But, he asked me to change the name of the recipient, otherwise it would be delayed.”
“They told me that all recipient names such as Muhammad and Ahmed have been blocked by OFAC . I was forced to give another name to send the money. How can they block such common names among Muslims as Mohammed and Ahmed? he complained, stating, as a protest, “I refused to send money through Western Union and used another local exchange house to remit the money to India using the recipient’s name as Mohammed.”
Rahman said that the remittance was a small amount of Dh450. “How could they block such a small amount or delay in remitting the amount to the recepient in India just because his name is Mohammed, which calls for close scrutiny by OFAC after 9/11.”
Another customer who visited the Western Union service to send money home in India also experienced the same problem. " When I told the name of the recepient was Ahmed, the counter staff at the exchange suggested me to give another name because this name was “banned”. However, he did not inform me who had banned the name, the customer said, pointing out that he has been remitting money regularly to this name in the past and never faced any problems. “So why now. It does not make sense because all ‘Mohammeds’ and 'Ahmeds' in India or elsewhere cannot be members of terrorist organisations around the world.”
Speaking to your favourite No 1 newspaper Khaleej Times, Jean Claude Farah, Regional Vice-President of Western Union, said: "After the 9/11 attack, OFAC is controlling and monitoring all transactions across the world. All the central banks in the Gulf region have asked us to control and monitor all money transactions. We abide by the law and monitor all the transactions. It is a part of our commitment to ensure security and serve the customers in a legal way."
He mentioned that OFAC has published a list of organisations and individuals suspected of involvement in terror acts . “When people remit money using those listed names, we are forced to monitor the recipients' whereabouts. Once we verify and find the person is not included in the banned list of names, we release the money," Farah added.
He pointed out that about half of the Western Union staff belong to the Muslim community."If we are discriminating, then how come we have appointed all this staff from the Muslim community?” he asked.
Farah explained that if the names of recipients do not figure in the banned list, there is no delay in transmission of money. But, if the name matches with the name in the banned list, we then ask for their identification. If their identity is not linked to any such terrorist activities, we release the money," he said, adding that if there is positive match we block the money and send the report to the appropriate government entity.
"We are handling about 35,000 transactions only to India. But, only a few complain about the delay,'' he added.