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Thursday, July 20, 2017

Senate to investigate EFCC over foreign financial supports

Senate to investigate EFCC over foreign financial supports

The Senate, on Wednesday, announced that it will soon commence a probe of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), to ascertain how grants and other financial aids received by the Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) from foreign donors have been spent.

NFIU is an agency supervised by the EFCC. The Senate arrived at the decision on Wednesday when it considered a motion tagged “Dire implication of the suspension of Nigeria from the Egmont Group of Financial Intelligence Units,”. It was sponsored by Senator Chukwuka Utazi. Utazi who chairs the Senate committee on Anti-Corruption and Financial Crimes, while moving the motion, bemoaned the suspension of Nigeria by Egmont Group, and urged his colleagues to immediately give nod to the sponsorship of a bill which will grant full autonomy to NFIU. “My committee will soon commence a probe into the activities of NFIU to determine and ascertain how grants and aids they have received have been spent by the EFCC. We will soon commence that,” Utazi said. The suspension of Nigeria, announced at the Egmont Group meeting held in China from July 2-7, 2017, was borne out of the country’s refusal to comply with the group’s demands for a legal framework granting autonomy to the NFIU.
The group is also threatening that by January 2018, the country will be expelled from the international body which provides the backbone for monitoring international money laundering activities. In the event of an expulsion, Nigeria will no longer be able to benefit from financial intelligence shared by the other 153 member countries, including the United States of America and the United Kingdom, while Nigeria’s ability to recover stolen funds abroad will also be hampered.
Another consequence that will result from the suspension will be the blacklisting of Nigeria in international finance. If this happens, this could affect the issuance of Mastercard and Visa credit and debit cards by Nigerian banks. It may also affect the international rating of Nigerian banks and it will restrict their access to some big-ticket international transactions.
Utazi explained the implications: “NFIU has not been granted operational autonomy and the Unit is still domiciled within the EFCC (a situation the Group has objected to over the years), and the admission of the NFIU into the EGMONT Group in June 2007 was on the basis of a resolution by the EI-‘CC Board but the group made it clear that it is a condition of continued membership for the NFIU organs and operations to be autonomous from the EFCC.
“Also, the meddlesomeness of the Acting Chairman of the EFCC, Mr Ibrahim Magu in the affairs of the NFIU by his interference in the operations and staffing of the Unit, has led to the departure of many competent hands. EGMONT Group said the EFCC divulges confidential information concerning its activities to the media. “By virtue of our membership of the Group, the NFIU enjoys the benefit of the privileged information which the members of the group share among themselves. This intelligence sharing is crucial to the universal and local war against corruption, money laundering, terrorism financing, financial and economic crimes. “For example, by virtue of her membership, Nigeria relies on the Egmont Group for assistance in the investigation of the crimes listed above as all bank accounts and other assets of suspects are made available to the country wherever they are located in the world.” At the end of the deliberations, the Senate resolved that a law be passed to create a substantive and autonomous NFlU and make the Unit legally and operationally autonomous with powers for the employment, reward mining, promotion and discipline of its workforce independently.
It also agreed to empower the NFIU to, in line with international best practices, exchange and relate with all countries on issues affecting its mandate at the bilateral and multi-lateral levels.
The Senate also urged the three line Ministries of Justice, Finance and Interior to do all within their powers to ensure that Nigeria’s suspension is immediately reversed and ensure that all conditions specified by the Egmont Group are met to re-admit and improve Nigeria’s standing within the Group. Lawmakers equally urged the executive branch to include in any supplementary budget estimate that may be presented to the National Assembly before the end of the year a separate budget for the NFIU in view of the need to lift the suspension of Nigeria as soon as possible.
The Egmont Group is a body of 154 financial intelligence units (FIUs) across the world. The body provides a platform to secure exchange of expertise and financial intelligence to combat money laundering and terrorist financing. The Nigerian Government joined the group on an operational basis on January 1, 2005 and became a full member on June 1, 2007, two days after President Olusegun Obasanjo left office.
The group mandates countries to establish a financial intelligence unit that serves as a national centre for the receipt and analysis of (1) suspicious transaction reports; and (2) other information relevant to money laundering, associated predicate offences and financing of terrorism, and for the dissemination of the results of that analysis. As a member of the group, the NFIU can access the bank accounts of persons of interest in all the other 153 member countries. All advanced countries are members of the group, which is an initiative of the American government.

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