Two European banks were yesterday accused by the US Treasury Department of helping Saddam Hussein launder money stolen from the UN oil-for-food programme. American authorities aim to cut the Infobank of Belarus and First Merchant Bank of Cyprus out of the financial system by making mainstream institutions aware of the allegations. The Treasury Department dubbed the banks "primary money laundering concerns" for their failure to combat problems with the oil-for-food scheme. Stuart Levey, Treasury undersecretary, said: "Today's designation alerts the global financial community of the threat posed by these entities. It also serves notice to others that there will be significant consequences for institutions that launder tainted money or engage in similar corruption: we will cut you off from the US financial system." The US claims Infobank was central to Saddam Hussein's scheme to divert more than $10 billion from the oil-for-food deal to the Iraq government. It is not claiming that either bank was directly aware of the plot to deceive the UN, however. The action against Infobank was widely seen as a warning to Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko, who is said to have close ties to the bank, informs Telegraph. According to VOANews, A bank in Belarus has denied U.S. charges that it laundered money for former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. Infobank, in a statement, said it has strictly followed international agreements related to the fight against illegal transactions. It said it hopes what it called "the unfortunate situation" will be resolved soon. On Tuesday, the U.S. Treasury Department said the bank laundered funds that came from schemes to circumvent the United Nations oil for food program. It prohibited the Belarusian institution from doing business in the United States. The department said proceeds from illegal surcharges and inflated contracts were returned to Saddam Hussein's regime or used to buy weapons or for military training. The Treasury Department also named First Merchant Bank in Turkish-controlled northern Cyprus as another institution banned from doing business with the United States for its alleged money laundering activities. The United States moved to banish from the country two foreign banks suspected of helping the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein, before its ouster last year, launder money siphoned from the UN oil-for-food program. The Treasury Department formally designated Infobank of Belarus and First Merchant Bank, operating in the Turkish-controlled northern part of Cyprus, as institutions of "primary money laundering concern," which effectively shuts them out of the US financial system. The designation means the targeted banks cannot maintain any correspondent accounts in the United States, a key tool for conducting business in the country. In addition, US banks have been instructed to keep an eye out for attempts by the two targetted banks to get access to the American market through intermediaries, reports Channelnewsasia.
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