Money-transfer services to Somalia close down today

by Laura Yuen, Minnesota Public Radio

December 29, 2011

St. Paul, Minn. — A group representing 15 money-transfer companies in Minnesota says the businesses stopped sending remittances to Somalia as of Thursday.

The move comes as one of the last remaining U.S. banks to do business with the money-wiring shops prepares to close its accounts with them. Franklin Bank of Minneapolis decided to end its relationship with the money-transfer services, known as hawalas, in fear of violating rules against terror financing.

But Somali-Americans in Minnesota say closing a lifeline to the famine-stricken country amounts to cruelty. Aden Hassan, a spokesman for the Somali American Money Services Association, says the banks are discriminating against Somalis who have no other way to support their families.

“The majority of people we serve live in areas where you will not find Western Union, MoneyGram, or conventional banks,” said Hassan. “If this is shut down, then the people will have no alternative — no legal alternative.”

Some worry that remittances will go underground, making it even more challenging to stop the flow of money to terrorists.

A statement Thursday from Sunrise Community Banks, the parent company of Franklin Bank, left little hope for an extension. The bank is pushing for a government waiver typically issued to international aid organizations that could afford the bank some protection.

“The bank remains hopeful that the government would be willing to consider a similar solution in this instance,” the statement reads. “Until that solution is found, the bank must continue to comply with all U.S. laws and banking regulations. We stand ready to facilitate any approach undertaken by the government that meets the government’s legal and regulatory requirements.”

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