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A proposal to add seven countries, including Saudi Arabia, to the EU money-laundering blacklist faces ‘overwhelming’ opposition from member states, sources told AFP on Thursday.
The European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, said earlier this month it wanted to add the Gulf kingdom and six other states including Panama to a list of 16 nations seen as doing too little to stop the financing of terrorism and organised crime.
But EU member states are deeply uneasy about the way the list has been drawn up and one source told AFP that as many as 27 out of the 28 countries are against it.
A source at the European Council, which groups member states, said there was an ‘overwhelming majority’ opposed to the proposal.
Officials are to meet for talks on Friday, when the commission is expected to explain how it chose which countries should be added.
A formal decision by the Council is expected in the coming days, with the measure highly likely to be rejected. According to diplomats, at a test vote only Belgium, which currently has a caretaker government, failed to oppose it.
Under EU procedures, the list can only be accepted or rejected as a whole – individual countries cannot be added or removed.
One European source said there was unhappiness among many member states ‘about how the list was drawn up’, rather than objections to the inclusion of specific countries.
A group of 29 members of the European Parliament wrote to the commission on Thursday urging them not to be swayed by ‘attempts by some member states’ to influence the list.
German Greens MEP Sven Giegold said the list was an ‘important step in the fight against money laundering’ adding ‘it would be a scandal if the council blocked it now.’
The announcement that Saudi Arabia would be added to the list came amid heightened tensions between Riyadh and European capitals over the murder last year of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul.
Inclusion on the EU list does not trigger sanctions, but it does oblige European banks to apply tighter controls on transactions with customers and institutions in those countries.
Riyadh voiced ‘regret’ when the announcement was made, saying its fight against money-laundering and terror financing was a ‘strategic priority’.