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Spellings complicate efforts to freeze assets

David Gura Apr 20, 2011

Steve Chiotakis: France and the U.K. said today they’ll send military advisers to Libya in hopes of helping rebels there topple the country’s dictator. Meanwhile, the international community is working to freeze the assets of the regime. But banks have a tough time tracking those assets because the money’s under an Arabic name that can be spelled many different ways in the west.

Marketplace’s David Gura reports.


David Gura: Take the Arabic name Muammar Gaddafi. In English, there are dozens of ways to write it, because there’s no standard way to transliterate Arabic into English. So banks, which must comply with government-imposed sanctions, use computer programs that rely on “fuzzy logic.”

Michael Dawson: The ability for software to detect not only the alternate spellings, but any deliberate misspellings or phonetic spellings that are used by an individual attempting to defeat the filters.

That’s Michael Dawson, a compliance expert with Promontory Financial Group. But there’s more to this than spelling. Bertrand Lisbach is a Swiss software developer.

Bertrand Lisbach: To really achieve a good quality in the matching, which means a precise and reliable matching, you actually need a lot of linguistic research.

Banks and investigators are getting more sophisticated, upping their game just as the number of deposed despots from North Africa and the Middle East increases.

In Washington, I’m David Gura for Marketplace.

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