Slovenská sporiteľňa says cooperation is vital to combat terrorist acounts.
photo: Ján Svrček
Speaking to The Slovak Spectator October 22, the Finance Minister said: "If there aren't strong enough laws here terrorists could take money from states where stricter legislation is in force and bring it here. It must be made clear that it will not be possible to have such accounts in Slovakia."
The minister's warning came after representatives of the Slovak Bank Association, the National Bank of Slovakia, the Securities Centre and the Customs and Tax Directorate met October 18 to discuss legislation on suspect accounts at Slovak banks.
In mid-September, Washington made available to countries across the world a list of terrorist organisations whose accounts should be frozen. Slovak banks have said existing laws leave them with little powers to act if they find groups on the list holding accounts in Slovakia.
A new Bank Law passed on October 5 allowed for the freezing of accounts if either the US or European Union adopted international sanctions against specific groups or countries. However, the new legislation will not come into effect until January 2002. Until then, accounts can be frozen only on the order of a judge or criminal investigators.
But with the government making a strong diplomatic push to support the US-led campaign against terrorism, Schmögnerová is seeking more effective implementation of existing laws on the freezing of accounts.
Meeting with the top financial bodies, she presented the list from Washington to the Slovak Bank Association with a clear message: "The Association will use the list to verify bank accounts, and if some accounts are on it, even under effective legislation they can be frozen."
Banks have welcomed the move to introduce the new legislation. Peter Švec, spokesman for Slovakia's biggest bank, Slovenská sporiteľňa, said his bank was willing and ready to cooperate in any way with authorities on combating terrorists' use of Slovak accounts.
Other bank representatives and the Finance Minister herself have said it is unlikely any terror groups would be using Slovak finance houses.
"It's not really a question for Slovakia. The Slovak banking market is not as developed as markets in the West," said Norbert Lazar, spokesman for Všeobecná úverová banka.
"It's very difficult to check on this anyway," he added.
However, Schmögnerová admitted that terrorists could have used bank accounts in Slovakia in the past.
"There's no way we can exclude that this happened," she said.
Some independent security experts went further, saying poor bank management under previous governments meant that terrorists had probably, not possibly, used banks in Slovakia already.
"It is not only possible but highly probable that Slovak banks were involved in money laundering and other transactions for terrorists," said Ivo Samson, security and defence expert at the non-governmental Slovak Foreign Policy Association.
"Bank administration under previous governments was very poor, and it was possible for any person to just deposit any amount of money without being asked any questions. No one in Slovakia can reliably deny that terrorists have used Slovak banks," he added.
Experts monitoring terrorism across the world say that tracking terrorist accounts is extremely difficult. Just weeks after the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington, allegations were made in an Austrian paper that an associate of Osama bin Laden had used an account in a Viennese bank for the purchase of industrial goods, including tractor parts, from Slovakia in the mid 1990s.
The bank involved said at the time that it would investigate, but as is the case with many other banks, accounts could have been held under names entirely different from their real owners.
The minister's message to terrorists came as Defence Minister Jozef Stank announced that measures introduced to beef up security following the September 11 attacks on the US had cost Slovakia Sk65 million ($1.3 million) so far.
More than Sk60 million has been poured into measures against biological attacks, including drugs and equipment for health utilities and vaccines and the equipment for a military field hospital to treat infections that should be operational by the end of this year.
Five million crowns have been spent on increased border protection.