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Saudis Join With US to Kill EU Effort to Create Dirty Money Blacklist

"Governments must ask themselves whether they are on the side of autocrats or their citizens!"

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin holds a news conference on September 21, 2017 in New York City. (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

The United States and key ally Saudi Arabia saw their lobbying efforts pay off on Friday after the European Commission's proposed dirty money blacklist—which included the oil-rich kingdom and several American territories—fizzled.

"The Americans fell on us like a tonne of bricks," an anonymous Brussels official told the Financial Times.

The effort "to protect the integrity of the E.U. financial system," the commission said last month, included blacklisting 23 territories that had "strategic deficiencies in their anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financing frameworks." They included American Samoa, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico as well as Saudi Arabia.

However, as the Wall Street Journal reported Friday, "European governments, under pressure from Washington and Riyadh, have refused to endorse" the list.

"The rejection of the governments is a farce at the expense of security," declared Sven Giegold, Member of the European Parliament (MEP) from Germany, in a statement quoted by Bloomberg. "France and the U.K. want to remove Saudi Arabia and other countries from the list. Spain is protecting Panama. The United States is exerting massive pressure because four U.S. jurisdictions," he said.

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"Governments must ask themselves whether they are on the side of autocrats or their citizens!" he added in a tweet.

As Politico reported, the list, which would need the backing of the European Parliament and Council of the E.U. to go into effect, "is politically sensitive because it has teeth. E.U. banks that handle payments connected to the blacklisted countries and territories would have to conduct 'enhanced due diligence' on any cash that moves to and from the E.U. and the blacklisted jurisdictions."

Politico also noted the "intense backlash and behind-the-scenes lobbying from the U.S. and Saudi Arabia."

The proposal drew ire from the U.S. Treasury Department, which denounced the commission's methodology, and its head, Secretary Steven Mnuchin, wrote to the commission to denounce the effort, as FT reported.

U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, even acknowledged that "we had to spend our energy killing this bad idea." Saudi Arabia's King Salman, for his part, also wrote to E.U. leaders about the "surprising and unexpected" list, and warned of its damage to "trade and investment flows between the kingdom and the European Union."

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