smoke overhead

How Hamas moves money illicitly through the financial system

Hamas has amassed billions of dollars despite being labeled a terrorist organization by the United States and others. Deputy Secretary of the US Treasury Wally Adeyemo talks with The World’s Marco Werman about how Hamas moves money and what the United States is doing to cut it off.

Israeli troops fought with Hamas militants and encircled Gaza City on Thursday, the military said, as the Palestinian death toll rose above 9,000. US and Arab leaders raised pressure on Israel to ease its siege of Gaza and at least briefly halt its attacks in order to aid civilians.

Nearly four weeks after Hamas’ deadly rampage in Israel sparked the war, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was heading to the region for talks Friday in Israel and Jordan following President Joe Biden’s suggestion for a humanitarian “pause” in the fighting. The aim would be to let in aid for Palestinians and let out more foreign nationals and wounded. Around 800 people left over the past two days.

Israel did not immediately respond to Biden’s suggestion. But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has previously ruled out a ceasefire, said Thursday: “We are advancing … Nothing will stop us.” He vowed to destroy Hamas rule in the Gaza Strip.

But other global leaders, including from the US, are fighting Hamas in another way.

Recently, Deputy Secretary of the US Treasury Wally Adeyemo returned from meetings in Europe where he discussed cracking down on Hamas’ money. Hamas has amassed billions of dollars despite being labeled a terrorist organization by the United States and others. Adeyemo talked with The World’s Marco Werman about how Hamas moves money and what the United States is doing to cut it off. 

Marco Werman: Hamas is many things, and the group has long functioned as an Islamic charity. It’s also a political movement that obviously has a military arm with lots of weaponry and the ability to carry out suicide bombings in Israel. It’s designated as a terrorist group by the US and others. Hamas also has a lot of money and a senior official in charge of its investment portfolio. That includes, for example, gleaming, new apartment buildings in Turkey. Foreign companies, loopholes, friendly jurisdictions where money moves around freely. Hamas has found them and uses them wisely. How wealthy is Hamas?
Wally Adeyemo: Well, you’re right that Hamas has a very sophisticated financial network which they have used to both support their fighters, buy weapons, and also to spread their hate-filled ideology. But they have less money today than they did in the past because of the actions we’ve taken over the last two days and the more than 1,000 sanctions we placed on them. I was just in Europe meeting with my European counterparts. From what we know to be true is that organizations like Hamas want to hold dollars, euros and pounds, and that’s why we’re taking actions to cut off their finances.
Yeah. Talk more about that trip you just completed to Europe. I’m wondering how focused it was on Hamas finances and what you were actually able to accomplish. 
It was very focused on the finances for Hamas and terrorist groups like Hamas. Oftentimes, Hamas attempts to hide its finances through charities, illegitimate charities that they use to try and move money around the world that are located in countries like the United States, like the United Kingdom, like the EU. It’s been critically important that the EU and the UK have joined the United States in freezing Hamas’ assets and going after these illegitimate charities that they’ve set up. We’ve been working very closely with countries in the Middle East, many of which also are concerned about terrorist financing to go after these financiers, be they in places like Qatar or in Saudi Arabia, and to cut off access for Hamas to those finances as well.
So, there has been some cracking down. Let me go back and ask, how many billions did Hamas have prior to this tightening? 
So, Hamas’ network of finances are hard to ascertain, but we know that they had more than enough money to conduct the attacks that they did on Oct. 7; they were heinous, but they were, for the most part, very low-cost attacks. The thing that they were able to do was to get through the fence and be able to Israelis using guns and knives. The missiles they have, many of which they snuck in through tunnels, were also produced with the money that they have in their savings. After their heinous attack of Oct. 7, Hamas went on a fundraising campaign to try and raise funds from around the world to support their hate-filled ideology. And our goal in the United States, working with our allies and partners, is to build a global coalition that will make sure that they don’t have access to any of the money that they had before these attacks. And they’re unable to collect additional revenue to pay their fighters and to buy more weapons to destabilize the region and attack Israel. But the key for us now is to make sure that the money that they’ve had access to that’s outside of Gaza is cut off from them. 
Prior to Oct. 7, would you have called those Hamas investments legitimate or is it money laundering?
Most of Hamas’ finances are illegal. They are through money laundering. And the truth is that Hamas has evolved their financing to include things like cryptocurrency and to find new ways to move money. And as they have made changes, we’re changing as well. But the thing that we know is important is that while we go after Hamas finances and there are legitimate charities, we also need to make sure that we’re providing space for legitimate charities and humanitarian assistance through finances to get into the region and to get into Gaza. This is hard because in the same way that Hamas is using human shields in Gaza, they’re using charitable organizations as shields for their elaborate financial networks outside of Gaza.
You mentioned a crypto. Aside from that and the luxury apartment buildings in Turkey, do you have other examples of how Hamas invests its money?
The reality is that in lots of ways, Hamas uses traditional investment vehicles to try and make money around the world. They disguise these things by using foreign companies and individual financiers who disguise the ultimate beneficiary of these assets. And what we’ve had to do is work very closely, not only with countries, but also financial institutions, to identify the types of schemes that Hamas and their financiers are using to try and hide money. What Hamas often does is very similar to what the Kremlin does to try and move money illicitly through the financial system using foreign companies and facilitators. And what we’ve had to do is go after those networks.
So, while Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Turkey might have nice things to say about Hamas and might want to protect them, perhaps you are able to sidestep him and work with Turkish financial institutions instead.
Turkish financial institutions want to be part of the global financial system, and as such they have responsibilities not only in their country, but they have responsibilities as part of that global financial system to implement the rules of the road that have been established by our jurisdictions, including the sanctions that we put in place. None of them should want to be in a position where they’re helping Hamas finance the type of horrific things that happened on Oct. 7. And we plan to work with them to ensure that Hamas doesn’t have anywhere to hide in the global financial system.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Sign up for The Top of the World, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning.