WASHINGTON - Confidence is an uncommon commodity among political appointees here these days.

As the presidential candidates wrangle over vote counts in Florida, concern for legislation and policy initiatives has been eclipsed by anxiety over keeping jobs after Jan. 20.

But even though he is not sure he will be with the Treasury Department next year, deputy secretary Stuart E. Eizenstat said he is sure of this: The anti-money-laundering initiatives he has helped to craft as part of the Clinton administration are here to stay.

Mr. Eizenstat, a soft-spoken Georgian who served for four years as President Carter's chief domestic policy adviser, has been central to the development of the Clinton administration's national strategy on money laundering. Among other things, he has overseen the launch of several initiatives for combating the spread of dirty money in this country, including identification and monitoring of so-called high-intensity financial crime areas.

Internationally, he has played a key role in the development of the "name and shame" program devised by the Financial Action Task Force, an intergovernmental anti-money-laundering group in Paris. In June the task force released a list of 15 countries that were either unwilling or unable to control the flow of illicit funds through their financial systems.

"This issue has developed such international momentum, and the U.S. has been such a leader … that I don't think any new administration would want to be seen as turning its back or dropping the ball in leading this effort," Mr. Eizenstat said in an interview the day after Election Day.

"We have worked so hard to get this on the international agenda," he said. "It is such an obvious threat to the financial integrity of our own system, and such an obvious problem in that it provides the fuel that fires the engines of international narco-terrorists, criminal gangs, and those that threaten our country, that I would hope any incoming administration would continue this as the bipartisan effort which it has been."

Experts on money laundering, such as American Bankers Association senior counsel John J. Byrne, say that while a new administration will try to place its stamp on ongoing efforts to combat dirty money, the general aim of the current administration's strategy will probably survive.

"Many elements of the strategy made a lot of sense," Mr. Byrne said. "In general, focus on the items outlined in the administration's strategy will continue."

Mr. Eizenstat said he is especially proud of the Paris group's effort, which he says has generated more of a response - both from the countries named and the private sector - than regulators "ever could have imagined."

Seven of the 15 countries on the "name and shame" list have enacted reforms since the program was launched. Standard & Poor's has lowered its credit rating on one of the fingered countries, and several U.S. banks have severed correspondent banking relationships with institutions located in money laundering havens.

Furthering Mr. Eizenstat's argument that anti-money-laundering efforts have taken center stage in the arena of international finance, a group of international banks last month issued the Wolfsberg Principles, a set of guidelines for private banking operations.

All these efforts, when taken together, "represent really unprecedented progress in a very short period of time," he said. "One significant disappointment is a lack of similar alacrity on Capitol Hill."

Administration officials are still ruing the demise of a bill that would have given the Treasury broad discretionary powers to impose sanctions on money laundering havens. The measure died in Congress this year despite winning 31-to-1 approval in a House Banking Committee vote.

"Unfortunately, the congressional leadership denied the bill a vote on the House floor, where we think it would have overwhelmingly passed, or even a hearing in the Senate," he said.

Mr. Eizenstat dismissed one of the primary arguments offered by the bill's opponents: that making sanctions discretionary would politicize them and make them less likely to be imposed.

The international task force's list "has belied any notion that politics and diplomacy will override economic and money laundering judgments," he said. "Look at the countries that are on that list: Liechtenstein, which is a major banking center with very strong banking contacts; Russia, a country with whom we have a whole host of important foreign policy and military interactions; Israel, which is one of the most significant voices in this country.

In the absence of a bill authorizing the Treasury to impose sanctions, the task force's threat to impose "countermeasures" on countries that fail to improve their anti-money-laundering regimes looks somewhat toothless, Mr. Eizenstat says.


Related Content Online:

From Our Archive:

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.