You might have heard the term “hawala” mentioned over the last few weeks. Maybe you saw it discussed while watching Amazon’s new Jack Ryan series, or maybe you’re more of a C-SPAN fan, and caught it a few times while watching the House Financial Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Terrorism and Illicit Finance hearing on September 7th on terrorist groups and their means of financing.
Hawala is a trust-based informal value transfer system (sometimes called parallel banking) that is widely used for perfectly legitimate purposes across parts of South Asia, West Africa, and the Middle East, and for facilitating transactions between communities there and people in other parts of the world, like Europe and North America. Its attraction to money launderers and terrorist financers is driven in large part by the difficulty of tracing the transactions and the limited means of regulatory enforcement. Notably, hawala is generally unlawful in countries like Pakistan and India, and in some U.S. states.