Alwaght- On Friday, the European Parliament blocked a proposal to add Saudi Arabia to its terror and money laundering blacklist. The proposal was made in February by the European Commission. The member states opposing the bill justified their rejection by saying that it lacked adequate transparency and reliable information.
A couple of days before the bill was sent to the Parliament, the European Commissioner for Justice Vera Jourova said that the EU has been launching the strictest campaign against money laundering and that they should be careful the other countries’ “dirty money” not penetrate the European financial system. Jourova added that dirty money was a drive for organized crimes and terrorism and those on the EU blacklist should immediately address their shortcomings and loopholes allowing the crime.
The draft bill was sent for first reading on last Wednesday and intended to blacklist 23 states for money laundering and terrorism financing. The members had one month to discuss the bill and accept or reject it. But the opponents of blacklisting Saudi Arabia only two days later removed the Saudi name from the list. Some twenty countries, including Germany, France, Britain, Spain, Italy, Belgium, and Greece, have opposed blacklisting Saudi Arabia. What is these countries’ drive to block putting Riyadh on the dirty money blacklist?
Global arms trade
Europe is one of the main exporters of arms in the world. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), 6.7, 5.8, 4.8, and 2.5 percent of the global arms sales shares are respectively held by France, Germany, Britain, and Italy. Saudi Arabia, the SIPRI goes on, is the top global arms purchaser with 10 percent of the world arms being sold to the oil-wealthy state.
In 2017, the absolutely-ruled monarchy was the largest arms importer in the world. So, the arms exporters cannot ignore the lucrative arms trade with the Saudis. The latest report by the SIPRI suggests that the kingdom bought worth of $4.325 billion arms from various suppliers in 2017.
Between 2015 and 2017, the largest arms providers were the US with $6.980 billion, Britain with $2.029 billion, France with $291 million, Spain with $254 million, Switzerland with $129 million, and Germany with $120 million worth of sales. Such huge money exchanged for arms can explain why the key European powers like France, Britain, and Italy are the top blockers of the anti-Saudi bid in the European Parliament.
Saudi global lobby with money and arms trade as pressure tools
Being added to this blacklist severely damages the countries’ international record and prestige, fewer tourists will travel to them, and fewer investors will be ready to take their money there as these states are assessed to be of high investment risks. Once blacklisted, their financial transactions with the EU banks and financial institutions will be more complicated and will undergo a strict regime of monitoring.
The Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in 2016 unveiled a roadmap to curtail the reliance on oil incomes and diversification of the economy through expanding the service, health, education, infrastructure, tourism, and entertainment sectors. The plan, dubbed Saudi Vision 2030, is in desperate need of foreign investment and tech provision for it to proceed.
Riyadh leaders, using the arms trade and sometimes threatening to withdraw their huge investment in the Western countries, have pressed for removal of their name from dirty money blacklist. According to a European diplomat, Saudi Arabia at the Warsaw meeting, held in mid-February with an anti-Iranian agenda, threatened that if EU put its name in the list, it will scale down or stop trade with some European countries.
Reports say that the Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz just before the bill reading in the Parliament sent a letter to the EU threatening its leaders with reducing financial and trade relations if the proposal proceeds. Washington, on the other side, has repeatedly asked the Union to drop Riyadh name from the list.
Riyadh did similar lobbies in the past. In 2016, threatening to cut off its UN budget, the kingdom forced Ban Ki-moon, then UN secretary-general, to cross off Saudi name from the list of children killers.
Furthermore, after Canada's foreign ministry blasted the Saudi mistreatment of women activists and for other human rights violations, Riyadh severed its diplomatic relations with Ottawa and suspended new investment in the North American country. It also withdrew 7,000 students from Canadian universities to new universities in other countries.
Additionally, Saudi Arabia threatened to take out billions of dollars in investment money from the US economy if CIA releases a 28-page report proving Riyadh hands in the 9/11 attacks on the US soil. The CIA went ahead with the publication but did not specify the kingdom’s role in the 2000 operations.
Many times the Saudi lobbyists, using investment and weapons trade pressure tools, forced Western capitalism to adopt double-standard policies. The British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt who started a visit to Saudi Arabia on Saturday to ostensibly discuss Yemen peace has met on Sunday with the Saudi Foreign Minister Ibrahim Abdulaziz al-Assaf and described the two countries’ ties “strategic.” The two sides discussed the latest regional developments and a “joint fight” against terrorism and extremism.
But London’s opposition to blacklist Saudi Arabia a day before practically questioned Hunt’s stated intention to talk peace with the Saudi rulers. With regard to the British support to the Saudi-led Arab military coalition against Yemen which is marked by the huge sales of weapons to both Saudi Arabia and the UAE as key aggressors in the campaign, it seems that the foreign secretary’s trip is aimed at boosting the trade ties with the kingdom rather than discussing peace for Yemen which has been victim of the Saudi-led coalition’s atrocities since March 2015.