Monday, January 18, 2021

Naked Money laundering in Nigeria: Ask no questions and mind your business

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In 2003, Nigeria took a big step in declaring war against economic crimes by setting up the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).  The mission statement for EFCC is still unchanged since inception “To rid Nigeria of Economic and Financial Crimes and to effectively coordinate the domestic effort of the global fight against money laundering and terrorist financing.”

The creation of EFCC filled a vacuum created by a lack of check and balance on economic and financial crimes.  Corruption is the encompassing word often used to cover all aspects of political crimes. The generalization of different types of political crimes under corruption, for public office holders, muddled the fight against financial and economic crimes.  Therefore, the understanding of the impact of financial crimes such as money laundering, fraud and bribery is weighted against economic performance.  So, if the economy is doing well, you are a saint and if the economy is bad, then you are a sinner and guilty of corruption.

Lack of attention and short-sightedness created the current landscape of plain sight money laundering in a nation devoid of accountability from public office holders.  Yet, as a country, the prospect of addressing money laundering is frowned upon under the disguise of “God’s blessings” or “Mind your business”.

The current mindset of challenging the source of wealth of individuals, makes it difficult to differentiate between legitimate business and illicit flows from criminal activity. 

Dirty money afloat the cities of Nigeria in real estate, Bureau de change, automobiles, shopping complex, oil and gas.  The cities are propped up with dirty money shifted from taxpayers pocket through fraudulent means and laundered back into the pockets of individuals in plain sights without questions. 

“Economic performance or popularity is not a substitute for judging economic and financial crimes. “  

No matter the economic benefit delivered through financial crimes, it does not remove the underlying crime and the rule of law should apply appropriately.

Performance in AML/CFT Fight

In 2016, Nigeria conducted its first National money laundering and Terrorist Financing (ML/TF) Risk Assessment by the Nigerian National (ML/TF) Risk Assessment Forum.  The forum assessed the threat of Money Laundering to Nigeria as Medium High and Nigeria’s vulnerability to Money Laundering as Medium High.

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According to the Basel AML index 2018 ranking, an independent annual ranking that assesses the risk of money laundering and terrorist financing around the world, Nigeria is currently ranked 16 out 129 (Low number means high risk of ML/FT).  The country was marginally better off in 2017, ranked 33 out of 146.

In the 2018 Corruption Perception Index (CPI) published by Transparency International (TI), Nigeria is ranked 144 out of 180 (high perceived level of corruption) with a score of 27/100.  Over the last 6 years, Nigeria maintained a score in the range of 25-27.

While the rankings show a decline in the fight against financial crimes, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) would point to slayed political wigs already in jail or in court.  However, the roster of slayed political wigs colorfully demonstrate a fight heavily skewed towards the party in charge of the government.   But then, that should not detract the agency from getting positive feedbacks for the scalps they fought for, on behalf of Nigeria. 

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