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Hawala remains cornerstone of underground banking system

According to many international experts on money laundering, the hawala remains the cornerstone of an underground banking system used extensively by both criminals and terrorists. The hawala is a traditionally informal system for money transfers that has been used for hundreds of years, particularly in South Asia and the Middle East

"The Christian Science Monitor" reported on 22 July: "Today's hawala dealers conclude their deals by e-mail and faxes instead of letters of credit, providing perhaps the world's closest example of what Bill Gates called friction-free commerce. Faster than an ATM, hawala has no paper trail and shields customers from tax authorities or intelligence agents." The system is legal in many parts of the world, including the United States. In those countries where it is illegal, it is difficult to close down. "The Christian Science Monitor" cited the case of India, where the hawala is punishable by long prison terms. Still, the paper reported, "in India alone, according to Interpol intelligence sources, the size of the hawala could be nearly 40 percent of India's gross domestic product. In 1998, the latest figures available, the amount of money in India's hawala system was estimated at $680 billion, roughly the size of Canada's entire economy."

(RFE/RL 26.vii.02)

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