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EU sets sights on virtual currencies

European leaders have agreed to step up their controls of virtual currencies such as bitcoin and other anonymous payment methods they suspect Islamic State and other terrorists use to finance attacks.

Online or electronic payment methods that could easily be used to finance terrorism or launder money will soon be subject to tighter regulations within the European Union, interior and justice ministers meeting in Brussels said Friday.

The call for stricter oversight of alternative banking options, such as anonymous electronic payments, money remittances or virtual currencies, was first reported by the Reuters news agency.

The ministers did not actually present any concrete measures to stem the flow of untraceable money to terrorists. They deferred that decision to the European Commission.

'Fintechs'

It wasn't the first time surreptitious pay options have attracted security officials' attention, nor was it the first time the EU's executive body has decided to do something about it. The Commission is already investigating six payment methods that could be used to elude authorities.

Earlier this week, the influential Group of Seven industrial nations said it too would scrutinize digital currencies more closely in the wake of last week's shooting and bombing attacks in Paris. That was according to Germany's Der Spiegel news magazine, which reported the G7's plans on Wednesday.

G7 meetings are usually confidential, but Der Spiegel said the group's finance ministers had discussed the software-based financial services on offer by so-called "fintechs," or financial technology firms, because their very nature - easy, anonymous and untraceable - made them ideal money handlers for terrorists and other criminals.

Art, gold and pre-paid cards

On Friday, the EU ministers also agreed to examine pre-paid cards and transfers of gold and other precious metals.

They did also agree to find ways to interrupt the illegal trade of cultural goods, such as stolen works of art - a notion that was also advocated by French President Francois Hollande earlier in the week.

Speaking to the United Nations' cultural body after 129 people were murdered in Paris, Hollande said he would offer "asylum" to artworks that had been plundered by the Islamic State.

cjc/hg (Reuters, AFP)

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