Belgium to probe US monitoring of international money transfers
Belgium to probe US monitoring of international money
27.06.2006 - 09:58 CET | By Helena Spongenberg
Belgian prime minister Guy Verhofstadt has ordered a
probe into whether a Brussels-based banking consortium
broke the law when it provided US anti-terror
authorities with confidential information about
international money transfers.
The consortium known as SWIFT society for worldwide
inter-bank financial telecommunications was brought
into the limelight when the New York Times last week
reported that officials from the CIA, the FBI and
other US agencies had since 2001 been allowed to
inspect the transfers.
Prime minister Guy Verhofstadt asked the Belgian
justice ministry on Monday (26 June) to investigate
whether SWIFT acted illegally in allowing US
authorities to inspect the transfers without the
support of a Belgian judge.
"We need to ask what are the legal frontiers in this
case and whether it is right that a US civil servant
could look at private transactions without the
approval of a Belgian judge," said government
spokesman Didier Seus, according to the International
Also on Monday, US president George W. Bush called the
media coverage of the SWIFT case "disgraceful" while
the European Commission said it had no authority to
"The disclosure of this program is disgraceful," Mr
Bush said at a Washington news conference according to
"We're at war with a bunch of people who want to hurt
the United States of America. And for people to leak
that program and for a newspaper to publish it does
great harm to the United States of America," he said.
"At first sight, it would appear that there is no
European legislation covering this type of transfer,"
commission spokesman Friso Abbing Roscam said.
"Therefore it is a matter for national law."
"Everyone agrees that in the fight against terrorism
we do need to have measures against the funding of
terrorism," he added. "But the emphasis is that this
must be done with full respect in the respect of data
Although SWIFT is based in Belgium a European Union
member it is also subject to US laws as it has
offices there. The US tapping into confidential bank
transfers could therefore be legal as long as it is
outside of Belgium where court-approved warrants are
The case comes at a time when the EU and the US have
been criticised for the extent to which civil
liberties can be sacrificed in the war on terrorism.
In May, Europe's highest court of justice overturned
an EU-US deal which provides Washington with personal
data on airline passengers flying from Europe to the
Nearly 8,000 financial institutions in 205 countries
use SWIFT, which works as a central global centre
operating a secure electronic messaging service.
The networks transmit nearly 4.8 trillion daily
between banks, stock exchanges and other institutions.