Friday, October 23, 2020

Top Nigerian law firm flagged for suspicious money laundering activities in the US


A law firm owned by Rickey Tarfa, a senior lawyer facing trial over bribery allegations in Nigeria, has appeared in leaked suspicious activity reports filed with the United States’ Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN).

The SAR filed on Rickey Tarfa & Co showed 427 suspicious wire transfers, totalling $2,261,181.22, to multiple accounts within the space of six months in 2013.

The revelation came to light as part of a global investigation, otherwise known as #FinCENFiles, by the International Centre for Investigative Journalists, BuzzFeed, and 108 media partners, including PREMIUM TIMES, in 88 countries.

The leaked files are a large volume of confidential financial reports relating to the transaction activities of world leaders, terrorists, drug dealers and money launderers and filed by banks and other financial institutions to the US Government as required by the Bank Secrecy Act.

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The investigation involved 16-month collaborative work involving more than 400 journalists, including those from PREMIUM TIMES.

These flagged transfers involving Mr Tarfa’s firm were made through his firm’s EcoBank Nigeria Plc account between May and November 2013.

AFA Press, a UK-based communications agency, received the sum of $4,359.00 into its Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC) bank account during this period from Mr Tarfa’s law firm.

AFA Press describes itself as a provider of editorial content and service for independent media in print and digital formats across the globe. It is unclear what services the company provided to Mr Tarfa’s company, although the law firm did not list media or communication-related activities as part of its services.

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AFA Press is owned and led by Alberto Llaryora, a 51-year old Argentine. He owns seven other media-related companies in the UK.
HSBC bank is a correspondent customer of HSBC North America Holdings, Inc, thus the justification for the interest of the United States’ authorities in the transaction.

A SAR was filed because of the bank’s inability to determine the legitimacy of the financial transactions and suspicion of money laundering.

According to the filing, the transactions had no apparent economic, business, or lawful purpose.

Also, the wire transfers involved amounts less than any locally mandated transaction reporting requirements, the SAR said.

“This SAR is being filed because the continuation of activity for a customer of HSBC BANK PLC-LONDON, AFA PRESS LTD, who received one (1) wire transfer totalling $4,359.00 on 5/31/2013 from RICKEY TARFA AND COMPANY, a client of ECOBANK NIGERIA PLC, and who between 05/31/2013 and 11/14/2013 originated 427 wire transfers totalling $2,261,181.22 to multiple counterparties which appeared to be structured. The activity for AFA PRESS LTD and RICKEY TARFA AND COMPANY was reviewed from 05/31/2013 to 11/18/2013,” revealed the SAR.

Nothing came of the efforts to get a comment from the law firm as its officials neither answered telephone calls nor text messages.

Also, enquiries sent via the email address provided on its website were not acknowledged or replied to as of the time of filing this report.

When PREMIUM TIMES contacted him on Thursday, Mr Tarfa denied knowledge of any transactions flagged by the U.S. authorities. “I am not aware,” he said.

Embattled Principal

The principal of the firm, Mr Tarfa is currently facing a 26-count amended charge for refusal to declare his assets, misinforming an officer of the EFCC and offering gratification to a public official.

He was first arraigned at a Lagos State High Court, Igbosere, on February 16, 2016, on a two-count charge of obstruction of justice and attempting to pervert the course of justice.

He was accused of willfully obstructing two officers of the EFCC, Moses Awolusi and Sanusi Mohammed, from arresting Gnanhooue Sourou and Nazaire Odeste, who were suspected to have committed economic and financial crimes in contravention of Section 38(2) (a) of the EFCC Establishment Act of 2004.

Also, Mr Tarfa was alleged to have engaged in improper communication with Justice Muhammed Yunusa between May 11 and June 25, 2015, while the case between the EFCC and two others was pending before the judge.

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Afterwards, his charges were amended when the EFCC found out that he paid about N5.3 million in several tranches into Justice Hyeladzira Nganjiwa’s account and N800,000 in three tranches into Justice Yunusa’s account.

Justices Nganjiwa and Yunusa are Federal High Court Judges in Bayelsa and Lagos states respectively.

The anti-graft agency further accused Mr Tarfa of age falsification.

Nonetheless, the trial of the senior lawyer has been stalled for different reasons. At a time, he travelled abroad for medical treatment. At other times, it was owing to the absence of the witnesses or even the prosecuting counsel.

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