Ngo Ba Lai, chief of the State Bank's inspection department, on Monday said the project had been submitted to the government last week and was awaiting formal approval by Prime Minister Phan Van Khai.

  

"We don't know exactly when it will be approved. It is a brand new (area) in Vietnam," he said in the capital Hanoi.

  

Lai said the decree would provide guidance for setting up systems for the reporting and investigation of suspicious transactions. It would also stipulate possible sanctions against any money laundering activities.

  

The international community has pushed Vietnam to act on this matter, especially after the September 11 attacks.

 

IMF mission

  

Last December, the International Monetary Fund sent a mission to Vietnam to work on the matter.

  

"Vietnam is very much a cash economy. Deposit in gold is also possible which makes it potentially easy to launder some money," said Susan Adams, the IMF representative in Vietnam.

 

"It is precisely countries which believe they are not a target that can easily become targets"

Unnamed expert

"From what has been announced, the country is moving in the right direction," she said, adding the IMF would offer technical assistance to help Vietnam strengthen its legal framework should the government desire it.

  

Several experts say one of the country's challenges is to deal with the large amount of money flowing into the country outside the channels of the banking system.

  

Last year, a US Congressional intelligence delegation held talks in Hanoi with the government on measures to strengthen bilateral cooperation against "terrorism".

  

Experts say Vietnam could become a serious destination for money laundering.

  

"It is precisely countries which believe they are not a target that can easily become targets", one expert said, adding that Vietnam's huge investment opportunities could attract money launderers.