WASHINGTON - American Bankers Association senior counsel John J. Byrne testified before a House panel Thursday that the Clinton administration's proposed anti-money-laundering bill could make it harder for banks to operate abroad.

Provisions that would grant U.S. authorities access to records in offshore havens and make it a crime to launder money through foreign banks are "worthy and important" law enforcement goals, but they could have repercussions, he said.

"We have concerns that U.S. banks may be subject to retaliation by foreign jurisdictions where we are engaged in business," Mr. Byrne said in testimony prepared for House Judiciary's crime subcommittee.

Also, he said, the proposed expansion of the list of crimes committed in foreign countries that would trigger money laundering prosecutions here might put banks in an awkward position. For example, he said, a foreign government could make it illegal for people to move their funds to U.S. institutions because of economic or political instability. If U.S. banks are forced to report transactions made under these circumstances, "we run the very real risk of losing customers who are not criminals to institutions outside of the United States."

- Dean Anason

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