Money laundering: Senators, Reps slam FG
The National Assembly has accused the Federal Government of lacking the political will to deal with offenders under the Anti-Money Laundering Act.
The Senate and the House of Representatives said it was the government’s lack of the will to go after money launderers that was responsible for the non-enforcement of the Act.
Nigeria’s name is still on the list of Financial Action Task Force, a global watch dog on money-laundering, because of the Federal Government’s alleged poor record in combating the scourge.
The FATF de-listed Nigeria from the list of Non-Cooperating Jurisdictions and Territories in June 2006.
Nigeria, however, returned to the obnoxious list of countries with weak enforcement of money laundering laws in February 2012, where it shares the inglorious fame with 14 other nations.
Revelations at the recent probe of the pension scheme by the Senate showed that billions of naira were reportedly lodged in private accounts, in breach of extant financial regulations.
Also, the probe by both chambers of the National Assembly on fuel subsidy revealed shady financial transactions by phoney companies believed to have been floated by influential Nigerians.
Commercial banks are obligated by law to report any cash lodgement in excess of N1m and N5m respectfully for individual and corporate bodies to anti-graft agencies for monitoring.
But pension scam lodgements and similar others were not reported to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and sister agencies.
The Chairman of the Senate Committee on Drugs/Narcotics and Anti-Corruption, Senator Victor Lar, and his counterparts in the House of Representatives, Mr. Adams Jagaba, said the Act was being regularly flouted.
They argued that either the banks failed to notify anti-graft agencies on the breaches or the agencies simply failed to go after the offenders.
Lar, who spoke with one of our correspondents in Abuja, observed that there was “poor supervision and negligence of duty by relevant law enforcers.”
He added, “There are so many good laws today that are not being implemented. This is not because the laws are defective, but because some persons charged with that responsibility are not working.”
According to him, the Anti-Money Laundering Act provides that an alert be sent to the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Agency Unit, whenever major lodgements are made into any account.
“We do not know if such is being followed strictly; if not, it means that someone is not working or the technology involved is faulty,” he remarked.
Similarly, Jagaba noted that government was aware of the daily huge cash deposits in banks in breach of the law but had not reacted to the situation.
The lawmaker cited the Central Bank of Nigeria, a key federal agency, “which also has a responsibility of monitoring these banks, but does not do anything.”
He stated, “Government has no political will to implement the law. The major problem is that Nigeria keeps making laws that are neither obeyed nor implemented. The anti-money laundering law is one of them.
“Why can’t government sanction the banks? The CBN is not doing its work because it also has the responsibility to monitor the operations of these banks.
“They see stolen money passing through the banks and nothing is done about it. People who flout this law are left to go scot-free.
“Nigerians have to look in and be united to fight corruption, irrespective of tribe or religious differences.
“Nigerians celebrate thieves; that is why it is difficult to sanction the banks.”
The CBN Governor, Mr. Lamido Sanusi, had last Tuesday said special examiners from the apex bank would soon be sent to all banks to determine their level of involvement in the pension scam.
He explained that the issue had been discussed with the Minister of Finance, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, and that errant banks would be severely sanctioned.
The Pension Task Force team had recovered N151bn pension funds looted by government officials. About N35bn idle pension funds were reportedly located in various bank accounts.
One of these accounts was traced to a bank in Benue State.
Jagaba said that though the EFCC Chairman, Mr. Ibrahim Lamorde, was still taking his time to settle down in office, the commission should swing into action in view of the revelations from ongoing probes in the National Assembly.
“The EFCC should sanction the banks and go after those who steal these huge funds,” he added.
Lar stated that his committee would soon organise a roundtable to identify the areas where the Act could be amended for effective implementation.
He said the roundtable would afford the committee an opportunity to benefit from the knowledge of experts who could identify the loopholes in the implementation of the laws on financial crimes.
The Senate’s probe of the pension scam revealed that funds belonging to the pension offices were moved through various accounts without recourse to extant financial regulations.
At the Senate hearing, Okonjo-Iweala had confirmed that two accounts were opened in Fidelity Bank and United Bank for Africa, for the Police Pensions Office. The sums of N8bn and N3bn respectively were paid without recourse to the office of the Accountant-General of the Federation.
The AGF’s office is empowered to approve the opening of accounts for any federal agency.
The Pensions Reform Task Team also gave graphic details of how N2bn was fraudulently paid into an account of a school teacher, who was an agent of the cartel at the Office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation.
There were also allegations that officials of the pension offices placed funds meant for pensions in fixed deposits in banks instead of paying them directly to pensioners.
The interests accrued to such lodgements were not declared by the individuals, who allegedly connived with banks to carry out the illicit transactions.
No fewer than 10 former governors are facing trial for money laundering offences committed while in office.
Some of the cases have lingered for over six years, with little progress.
A former governor of Delta State, Chief James Ibori, was convicted by a United Kingdom Crown Court in London last month after pleading guilty to fraud and money laundering.
Curiously, a Federal High Court sitting in Asaba, the Delta State capital, had in December 2009 struck out the 170-count charge of corruption preferred against Ibori by the EFCC.