On 17 and 18 April 2023, a delegation led by the Open Dialogue Foundation (ODF) conducted an advocacy mission to Rome to raise awareness on the abuse of Anti-Money Laundering (AML) and Counter Financing of Terrorism (CFT) rules perpetrated by authoritarian regimes as a tool for transnational repression, and to expose how Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan are helping Russia to circumvent international sanctions.
The delegation, led by the President of ODF Lyudmyla Kozlovska, included Anna Chekhovich, financial director of Alexei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) from Russia, and Bota Jardemalie, lawyer and human rights defender from Kazakhstan. The delegation presented the recommendations, compiled in the joint submission of the informal Building True Change Coalition, to Italian policy-makers.
On 17 April, the BTC Coalition provided testimonies and recommendations regarding the abuse of AML/CFT rules to the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which included ODF’s reports about Kazakhstan’s and Kyrgyzstan’s assistance to Russia in circumventing sanctions.
Deputies Mauro Del Barba (ItaliaViva) and Benedetto Della Vedova (+Europa) hosted the ODF-led delegation and co-organised a press conference held on 18 April at the Italian Chamber of Deputies.
At the press conference, MP Del Barba, as Deputy Vice-President of the Chamber of Deputies and Head of the Italian delegation to OSCE PA, discussed how “(…) the operation of our financial system, its regulations which have been constructed to ensure its solidity and protection, are being misused by dictators to persecute any form of opposition”. Specifically, MP Del Barba explained how dictatorial and authoritarian regimes misuse the AML/CFT regulation to persecute dissidents, journalists, human rights activists, and NGOs by weaponizing banking data, obtained through the financial systems of democratic countries, to result in financial exclusion.
MP Della Vedova joined MP Del Barba in highlighting the importance of defending NGOs and the political opposition, emphasising the urgent need for a common European policy that addresses money laundering and terrorism financing while ensuring such protection.
Moreover, MP Della Vedova underlined how crucial testimonies such as those provided by the ODF-led delegation are for policy-makers to take proper action on a both national and international levels: “NGOs and political dissidents are often victims of abuses of AML/CFT regulations not only by authoritarian and autocratic regimes, but also perpetrated within Europe. (…) We have to take actions against authoritarian regimes such as Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus, which abuse these regulations to target dissidents and NGOs who heroically and commendably fight in their countries.”
In particular, the members of the delegation shared testimonies explaining how they were affected, both personally and professionally, by the abuse of AML/CFT regulations.
Lyudmyla Kozlovska reported that she, ODF, and its associates were stripped of the right to access financial services without any legal grounds and were only able to survive thanks to Bitcoin, while tackling financial exclusion. Kozlovska mentioned that for over a decade, Italian parliamentarians have supported ODF’s campaigns to defend human rights in many countries, which led to the reform of both INTERPOL and Schengen Information System, all the while developing a personal sanctions regime in the EU against the perpetrators of human rights abuse and releasing hundreds of political prisoners all over the post-Soviet region. For those reasons, ODF brought to the attention of the Chamber of Deputies the evasion of sanctions by Russia thanks to third countries such as Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan along with the transnational repressions through the abuse of AML/CFT laws and with the need to reflect the use of Bitcoin and stablecoins for human rights and humanitarian aid in the relevant EU/OSCE regulations.
Furthermore, Anna Chekhovich presented how the Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) was forced to leave Russia after being targeted as a terrorist organisation and after FBK’s and its members’ bank accounts had been closed. FBK has been using Bitcoin since 2015 to overcome the financial repression of Putin’s regime. At the same time, Chekhovich explained that FBK faces problems with opening and holding bank accounts in the EU, as a result of unintended consequences of the AML/CFT laws, having Russian origins, both FBK and its members, and using Bitcoin to support families of activists in Russia. Chekhovich stressed the importance of developing a solution to support the families of politically persecuted activists in Russia, while maintaining and reinforcing the existing sanctions regime imposed by the democratic countries.
Bota Jardemalie shared being persecuted by the Kazakhstani regime despite being recognized as a political refugee in Belgium, explaining that the regime made at least three mutual legal assistance requests to Belgium violating AML/CFT laws to receive her banking information and to imprison her family members.
We would like to thank all the speakers and the audience for attending the conference and RadioRadicale, Eurocomunicazione, and Pupia News for streaming the event. We reiterate once again our concern on these serious matters as well as our support for the swift adoption of legislation to address them.
- BTC Coalition: summary of works 2022-2023 (November 28, 2023)
- Joint submission of the civil society coalition: Tools to prevent abuse of FATF anti-money laundering/financing of terrorism rules and address transnational repression (November 27, 2023)
- Showing Humanitarian Face of Bitcoin at Central Bankers’ Forum (June 13, 2023)
- Can the EU’s anti-money laundering reform help dictators? (March 7, 2023)
- Misuse of the Anti-Money Laundering Measures (AML) and Countering the Financing of Terrorism (CFT) regulations as a tool of transnational repression (January 19, 2023)