UN moves to tighten net around ISIS finances

US Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew at the Financial Inclusion Forum in Washington, DC on Dec 1, 2015.
US Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew at the Financial Inclusion Forum in Washington, DC on Dec 1, 2015.PHOTO: AFP

UNITED NATIONS (AFP) - The UN Security Council holds its first-ever meeting of finance ministers Thursday (Dec 17) to adopt a wide-ranging draft resolution aimed at ramping up sanctions against the Islamic State group and cutting off its revenue flows.

US Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew will lead the 15-member council for the vote that comes amid a major diplomatic push to end the war in Syria, where ISIS militants control a large swathe of territory and have installed their de facto capital.

The draft resolution is expected to win unanimous backing from the council, including Russia, Syria's ally which is now in the third month of its air campaign in support of President Bashar Al-Assad.

The measure builds on a previous resolution setting up an Al-Qaeda blacklist, which will be renamed the "ISIL (Daesh) and Al-Qaeda sanctions list" to signal the UN's stronger focus on the ISIS extremists.

It calls on governments to ensure they have adopted laws that make the financing of ISIS and of foreign fighters who join its ranks a serious criminal offense.

The measure urges countries to "move vigorously and decisively to cut the flow of funds, and other financial assets and economic resources" including oil and antiquities to the ISIS group, and to "more actively" submit names to the sanctions list.

A Russian-drafted resolution on cutting off the extremists' revenue streams was adopted in February, but diplomats complain that countries have been slow to take action to choke off sources of funding.

The latest measure would require all countries to report within 120 days on steps taken to target IS financing.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will be asked to prepare a sweeping report in 45 days on the IS threat and its revenue streams.

"If we can get at ISIL's wallet and its financial coffers in an intensified and even more aggressive way, that's going to have a material effect on their ability to prosecute war," US Ambassador Samantha Power said, using an alternative acronym for the IS group.

According to the London-based IHS analysis firm, the Islamic State group is pulling in $80 million per month, but Russian and US coalition air strikes on oil facilities are putting a strain on its finances.

About half of ISIS revenues come from extortion and looted property, 43 percent from oil sales and the remainder from drug smuggling, electricity sales and donations, according to IHS.

The UN measure will give countries "more flexibility to go after those who are helping ISIL, whether to move funds, to store funds or to earn funds," said Adam Szubin, a senior US Treasury official.

Countries will be asked to boost information-sharing and in particular reach out to the private sector to enlist them in the financial war against IS.

A UN sanctions committee made up of the 15 Security Council member states can impose an assets freeze, travel ban and arms ban on individuals and entities linked to IS extremists.

The United States, which holds the council presidency this month, is hoping that the high-profile meeting will spur countries to take action, in particular in the region.

"What we most need now is for states to do what they have to do," said a UN diplomat.

French Finance Minister Michel Sapin said it will send a "very strong political message: the fight against the financing of terrorism is one of the priorities of the United Nations' members and every state must take the necessary measures."

After the finance ministers' meeting on Thursday, the Security Council on Friday (Dec 18) will bring together foreign ministers to adopt a separate resolution endorsing steps toward a political transition in Syria to end the nearly five-year war.