EU takes aim at virtual money, pre-paid cards to fight terrorism

Virtual currencies and pre-paid cards should be less easy to use anonymously, the European Union's executive said Tuesday, as it unveiled a plan to crack down on terrorist financing.

Stepping up the fight against terrorism took on new urgency in the EU after the November 13 attacks in Paris, which left 130 people dead and hundreds injured. The Islamic State extremist group claimed responsibility for the killings.

"We have to 'follow the money' and cut off the resources these groups use to carry out their heinous crimes," European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans said in a statement.

"By hitting them in their pockets, we reduce their ability to travel, to buy weapons and explosives, to hide in our towns and cities, and to spread hate and fear online," he added.

Pre-paid payment cards, which can be purchased in Europe at supermarkets, tobacco shops or newspaper stands, are believed to have been used by the Paris attackers.

Such cards "are beneficial for many citizens, including those people who are economically vulnerable or financially excluded," the commission noted. But their anonymity also presents risks.

The commission, which met in the French city of Strasbourg on Tuesday, said it will issue proposals by mid-2016 to increase user identification requirements. Customers could for instance be asked to verify their identity before a prepaid card is activated.

There are also concerns that terrorist groups may be using virtual currencies such as bitcoins, which are largely unregulated in the 28-country EU.

The commission on Tuesday promised to bring forward proposals by mid-2016 that will apply existing EU anti-money laundering rules to virtual currency platforms, so that people trading on them can be more easily identified.

The commission additionally plans to introduce more safeguards for financial flows from high-risk countries, as well as more powers and data access for national authorities that work on spotting suspicious transactions.

The institution said it will also look into setting up an EU regime for freezing terrorist assets, stepping up controls on cash shipped by mail, and cracking down on the terrorist trade of cultural goods.

EU finance ministers will start discussing the commission's plans next week, commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis said.

Last update: Fri, 24/06/2016 - 08:49

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