Freeze Gadhafi's Assets? It's Tough With Name Like That

Arabic names prove tricky for banks
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 19, 2011 2:26 PM CDT
Freeze Gadhafi's Assets? It's Tough With Name Like That
Moammar Gadhafi. Or, depending on who's spelling it, Muammar Ghathafi, Mu'ammar Gaddafi, or perhaps Muammar Mohammed Abu Minyar Qadhafi.   (AP Photo/Pier Paolo Cito)

(Newser) – It's hard for an international bank to freeze Moammar Gadhafi's assets when no one's quite sure how to spell his name. The US Treasury Department offers up 12 different options, but language experts say there are actually more than 100 variations for "Gadhafi" alone. It's just one example of a problem facing banks as they are ordered by governments to freeze assets belonging to residents of Libya and other Arabic-speaking nations, the Wall Street Journal reports. Arabic, unlike Chinese or Japanese, does not have transliteration standards, leading to a wide range of translations.

So banks are forced to scour hundreds of millions of client files, sometimes by hand, looking for individuals on sanctions lists. Enter Jack Halpern, a unicyclist who speaks 10 languages and founded CJK Dictionary Institute. His business is one of a few that can assist banks with this problem; CJK compiled a dictionary containing 7 million variants of Arab proper names. For one name on the sanction list—Hatem Ahmad Barakat—Halpern says his dictionary can potentially supply 130,000 variants, whereas the US has issued just four. (Read more Moammar Gadhafi stories.)

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