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Belgium to probe US monitoring of international money transfers

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://euobserver.com/9/21963/?rk=1 Belgium to probe US monitoring of international money transfers 27.06.2006 - 09:58 CET | By Helena Spongenberg Belgian
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 27, 2006
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      http://euobserver.com/9/21963/?rk=1

      Belgium to probe US monitoring of international money
      transfers
      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
      Herald Tribune.

      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
      investigate it.

      "The disclosure of this program is disgraceful," Mr
      Bush said at a Washington news conference according to
      press reports.

      "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
      privacy."

      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
      required.

      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
      US.

      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.
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