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SUSPECTED ISIS FINANCIER LIVING IN ESWATINI

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MBABANE – For seven years now, the country’s intelligence has failed to deal decisively with an individual living in Eswatini who is suspected to be financing terrorist group ISIS.

This unnamed individual is originally from the Middle East but carries an Eswatini National Identity Card and a passport, both of which were issued to him fraudulently. The suspect is said to have tried to transfer an amount of E25 000 from his South African bank account to his nephew who was fighting alongside ISIS. As explained by the Wilson Centre, the Islamic State – also known as ISIS, ISIL, or Daesh – emerged from the remnants of al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), a local offshoot of al Qaeda founded by Abu Musab al Zarqawi in 2004.

It faded into obscurity for several years after the surge of U.S. troops to Iraq in 2007, but began to reemerge in 2011. Over the next few years, it took advantage of growing instability in Iraq and Syria to carry out attacks and bolster its ranks. The group changed its name to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in 2013.  In 2015, the Intelligence Unit under the Royal Eswatini Police Service (REPS) is said to have an information request from one of their cooperating partners on this individual who was in possession of an Eswatini National ID. This information is contained in a 205-page June 2022 Mutual Evaluation Report (MER) on Eswatini, which has been published by the Eastern and Southern Africa Anti-Money Laundering Group (ESAAMLG).

The report focuses on Eswatini’s anti-money laundering and counter terrorist financing measures. ESAAMLG’s members and observers are committed to the effective implementation and enforcement of internationally accepted standards against money laundering and the financing of terrorism and proliferation, in particular the FATF Recommendations. The assessment on Eswatini was conducted under the responsibility of the ESAAMLG and adopted by the Council of Ministers in June 2022. With regard to the suspected ISIS financier, the report states: “The said subject had earlier on been denied entry into one of the Middle East countries from his home country which was also in the Middle East and the reasons for the refusal had not been disclosed. Also, worth noting was that the subject had also sent money amounting to Twenty-Five Thousand Rands (R25 000.00 or USD 1,700) from his South African Bank Account to his nephew who was fighting alongside ISIS in the Middle East country to which the subject had previously been denied entry. Preliminary information gathering done by the requesting State on the subject had established that the target had moved to Eswatini where he was using his original name but now in possession of a Swazi National Identity Card and a passport.”

Investigations by the Intelligence Unit reportedly later revealed that the ID and passport were illegally obtained ‘suggesting that there was collusion of some sort with the Immigration officials, who had issued him the ID card’. “No further investigations had been conducted on the case from 2015 to the time of the onsite and the subject was still in Eswatini and still using the illegal documents,” further states the report. The onsite visit was on May 24 to June 4, 2021. The report reiterates that the REPS were requested by their cooperating partner to establish whether the subject was in Eswatini at the time of investigations, and they succeeded to establish that with the assistance of other local authorities and they shared the information with the cooperating partners who had requested information on him. The REPS is mandated to prevent and detect all crimes and enforce all laws in Eswatini and has several Units that investigate money laundering (ML) and its associated predicate offences.These include: the Narcotic Drugs Unit;  Intelligence Unit; Counter Terrorism Organised Crime Unit; and the Financial and Economic Crimes Unit (FECU).

Besides the suspect from the Middle East, the FECU is reported to have indicated that during the time of the onsite visit the Unit had identified and investigated 10 suspected terrorism financing (TF) cases from reports disseminated by the Eswatini Financial Intelligence Unit (EFIU).
Further clarification with the Authorities, though, is said to have revealed that these 10 cases bordered on externalisation of funds by some Asian nationals who were running supermarkets in Eswatini. “Investigations in the said matter have since stalled as requests for information from foreign jurisdictions was not availed. Taking into account that the TF risks were not fully understood, it was difficult for the assessment team to make a determination if indeed these were TF cases with the little information provided on the said cases. It was further noted that the Authorities had not prioritised TF identification and investigations,” reads the report.

On June 3, 2022, the Times SUNDAY reported that a Cabinet minister had received a tip-off that a certain former politician mobilised Asians to unleash terror by destroying government properties through arson and petrol bombs. The Asians, who are businessmen involved in the selling of imported second hand vehicles (grey cars) in the country, were targeted by the ex-politician  because they had their businesses closed for defaulting on tax obligations. Two of the Asians reportedly gave in to the plot and went to one of their countrymen whom they thought would offer strong support in terms of financial resources and technical know-how but he rejected the idea and advised them to drop the plan, which they did.  Eswatini, as per the ESAAMLG report, faces the risk of terrorism financing, although this is said to be generally considered low by the authorities. However, ESAAMLG assessors are reportedly of the view that the risk of terrorism financing can be higher as threats and vulnerabilities were not adequately assessed in Eswatini.

“The country faces TF threats arising from neighbouring countries where there are active terrorist groups, cross border activities, influx of foreign nationals from high-risk countries and the vulnerabilities in the NPO (Non-Profit Organisations) sector, hawala operators, high usage of cash, porous borders and cash withdrawals abroad using credit cards with unknown intended purpose,” the report says. The authorities’ understanding of overall terrorism financing risk was reportedly limited in view of the inadequate analysis done during the National Risk Assessment (NRA) exercise.
It was noted by the assessors that Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs), supervisors and the private sector had little to no understanding of terrorism financing risks.

“The assessors are of the view that there are relatively inadequate measures in place to be able to identify and consequently understand the TF risk. The LEAs responsible for investigating terrorism and terrorism financing do not really understand the risk of TF in the country,” states the report.
Assessors are said to have noted that terrorism financing in Eswatini was often confused with the offence of terrorism, which generally led to a narrow view that since there had been no terrorism case in the country, it automatically translated to there being no terrorism financing. The kingdom’s authorities, in this regard, reportedly consider terrorism financing in Eswatini to be generally low. “The authorities believe that the suspected terror attacks that happened in South Africa in 2018 in South Africa and Al-Shabaab attacks in Mozambique have no effect in the country,” says he report. However, financial institutions, especially banks, are said to have expressed awareness of terrorism developments in Mozambique such as ISIL attacks in Cabo del Gado, potential funds layering through credit cards transactions mostly in Asia with unknown intended purpose, huge inflow of funds for some charitable organisations, and existence of porous borders for the country.


But the financial institutions reportedly could not demonstrate to what extent these factors could be used in determining the level of terrorism financing risks on the country. “It is the view of the assessors that these factors, in addition to high cash usage and the growing number of foreigners (some of which are from high-risk jurisdictions and believed to be thriving mostly on the hawala system) may potentially increase TF risk in the country,” continues the report. ESAAMLG has decried the fact that while Eswatini shares its borders with South Africa and Mozambique, both of which are countries with a significant terrorism financing risk, the authorities had not taken sufficient steps to understand the risk profile of their own country, let alone prosecuting and having offenders convicted consistent with the country’s risk profile. The overall conclusion drawn by ESAAMLG, therefore, is this: “Eswatini failed to demonstrate that it had assessed and understood the country’s TF risks. Further, the authorities could not demonstrate that they effectively identified, and investigated terrorist financiers or addressed TF through other alternative measures.” The observation has been that fundamental improvements were needed to address the identified deficiencies.


When returning from the African Union Summit that was held in Equatorial Guinea from May 27 to 28, 2022, Prime Minister Cleopas Dlamini said Eswatini had joined other countries in the continent to cut sources and channels used to finance terrorism in Africa. He said some of the factors which exacerbated terrorism in the continent included external funding and the misuse of social media platforms to promote acts of terrorism. Therefore, he said the Summit adopted the Declaration on Terrorism and Unconstitutional Governments in Africa which places a responsibility on all African States to act collectively in countering terrorism and unconstitutional change of government. The premier said they would also look into organisations which collected money under the pretext that they wanted to assist people who were affected during, for instance, disasters, unrests or pandemic, but at the end, used it to fund terrorism acts.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, in its first quarter performance report for the 2022/2023 financial year, which has been tabled in Parliament about a fortnight ago, said the Directorate of Public Prosecutions had not received any new cases related to terrorism, acketeering and those affecting State security. These offences fall under Anti-Money Laundering, Transnational and Organised Crimes Unit that is housed in the Directorate of Public Prosecutions.    

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