Washington (Reuters) - Legislation to tighten U.S. money laundering laws was cut from a broader anti-terrorism bill in the House of Representatives on Friday in a setback for efforts to target the financial networks that may have supported last month's attacks on New York and Washington.
The Senate cleared the two measures as a package late on Thursday, and the House had been expected to follow suit. But the new money laundering curbs were not included in the final anti-terrorism bill crafted by House leaders early on Friday.
We had hoped to be able to marry (the bills), but because of the crush of time we could not, said House Financial Services Committee Chairman Michael Oxley, an Ohio Republican.
Money laundering involves moving illicit funds -- which may be linked to terrorism, drug trafficking or organized crime -- through a series of financial institutions or accounts to disguise their origin, ownership or ultimate purpose.
The Financial Services Committee voted 62 to 1 on Thursday to impose new controls on U.S. banks and securities firms to try to crack down on the problem. The House and Senate bills are substantially similar.
Among other things, they would bar U.S. banks from dealing with shadowy foreign shell banks, make them keep better records on foreign account holders, and require closer review of some so-called correspondent accounts.
Correspondent accounts allow foreign banks to use U.S. banks' services, like wire transfers and check clearing, giving them direct access to the U.S. financial system. Osama bin Laden may have used such accounts at banks around the world for years to finance his al Qaeda network, lawmakers have said.
The legislation would also give the Treasury new powers to target foreign countries or banks deemed to present a major money-laundering threat. These range from making U.S. banks keep detailed records of dealings with those institutions or jurisdictions, to an outright ban on doing business with them.
Oxley said he hoped the money laundering bill would still be acted on separately next week and the House leadership later announced it would be brought to the floor on Wednesday.
Some supporters of the effort, however, have long expressed fears that, once separated from the fast moving anti-terrorism legislation, it may well stall or be watered down in the face of intense lobbying from the U.S. banking industry.
If it's a separate bill it has got very little chance of passing this year, Michigan Democratic Sen. Carl Levin, a key backer of the legislation, said earlier this week. The House leadership has never supported this kind of legislation and we think it's dead if that happens.
It remains unclear how the money laundering issue will now be dealt with when House and Senate negotiators meet -- likely next week -- to begin trying to hammer out their differences on the anti-terrorism bill.
But Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle on Friday pledged not to let the issue drop. We will not support a counterterrorism bill that does not have money laundering provisions in it, he told reporters.
You can't deal with counterterrorism if you don't deal with money laundering, Daschle said. It must be done, and we will insist that it be done.
Friday October 12 5:49 PM ET