S. Korea aims to become 'knowledge hub' for antiproliferation financing

With the launch of an antiterrorism financing training center in South Korea this week, the country will move a step closer toward becoming a global "knowledge hub" in the field, officials said Monday, source from Yonhap.

Kevin Stephenson, head of the FATF Training and Research Institute (TREIN), holds a press conference in Seoul on Sept. 19, 2016. (Yonhap)

South Korea has been active in supporting the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), especially since it faces direct threats from North Korea.

It has funded the creation of the FATF Training and Research Institute (TREIN) scheduled to open in Busan, the nation's southern port city, on Tuesday.

TREIN is tasked with international education and research on the fight against money laundering and terrorism-proliferation financing.

"As a strategic partner of the FATF TREIN, the South Korean government guarantees its maximum autonomy and promises to provide support," Yim Jong-yong, chairman of the Financial Services Commission, said during a meeting in Seoul with Kevin Stephenson, who was picked as the leader of TREIN.

Yim, South Korea's chief financial regulator, stressed that the government will do its best to help TREIN develop as an "international knowledge hub" in anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism, and also play a mediating role between advanced and developing countries.

Stephenson, a senior financial sector specialist with the World Bank's Financial Market Integrity Unit, pointed out combating money laundering and proliferation financing is a "global responsibility."

"In the very early stages, we are gonna focus to develop training courses or products that will help the jurisdictions understand the standards and also understand how to effectively implement them," he told reporters after talks with Yim. "I think the TREIN institute can play a significant role in improving the jurisdictions' understanding."

He cited "a little bit of a change" in the FATF's focus from "technical compliance" to "effectiveness" in implementing its recommendations.

For instance, the institute can research how to implement the FATF's recommendation for "targeted financial sanctions related to proliferation" in a way that affects North Korea, he added.

It mandates all FATF member countries implement targeted financial sanctions to comply with U.N. Security Council resolutions relating to the prevention, suppression and disruption of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and its financing.

The U.N. council is expected to adopt another resolution on punishing North Korea for its fifth nuclear test earlier this month.

Stephenson said it's important for the FATF member states to protect their financial institutions from the flow of proliferation-related funds and deter them being used for evil purposes.

"So, I think there is an area where TREIN can do research," he said "That's a kind of niche the FATF fits in."

He would not answer several broader follow-up questions on North Korea, including his opinions about specific sanctions led by the United States' and China's role in stopping Pyongyang's proliferation financing, saying he would like to talk more about the future of TREIN.

"I believe the FATF TREIN has tremendous potential, and I am confident that the FATF TREIN will have the support of the (South) Korean government and other FATF jurisdictions," he said. "The Korean government has been an active and dynamic FATF member by recently serving as the FATF president and leading this outstanding initiative. I am hopeful that other FATF members will follow the Korean example, actively participate in FATF's work and especially support the FATF TREIN."

He said that his agency can "fill a void and assist the global network to better combat money laundering, associated predicate offenses and terrorist financing."

Stephenson worked as executive secretary of the Egmont Group of Financial Intelligence Units from 2012-2016 after serving as director of the Financial Intelligence Unit of Kosovo.

He has also worked as a Deputy Attache for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and a special agent at the Department of Treasury. He holds a master's degree in criminal justice from the University of Tennessee.

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