The abnormal happened in Abuja last week as people, including government officials and law enforcement agents overlooked the financial crime committed and instead had fanfare rewarding somebody a miserly N30,000 and giving an award.
The National Orientation Agency (NOA) gave a taxi driver a N30,000 award for returning N18 million that a passenger forgot in his car. But nobody asked to know the identity of the individual who could put a whopping N18 million in a strange taxi booth.
This is happening even as the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) had spent time and money to ensure transactions become as cashless as possible. Thus, it is viewed from many quarters as a direct slap on the CBN cash-less policy.
The new idea is that no individual must withdraw more than N500,000 while corporate bodies are allowed a maximum N5 million. Even the federal government now pay salaries of civil servants into their accounts and other payments to government are now done online. But when an individual who is so rich forgot N18 million cash in a cab last week, all the relevant law enforcement agents were less concerned as usual.
The news, since it broke, has generated lots of discussions at different fora, particularly informal gatherings, on online sites, markets, bars etc. While most people commended the cab driver who returned the money for his honesty, integrity and courage in returning the money in the face of current economic realities in the country, many others feel he was stupid to have thrown away the very opportunity that would have transformed his life.
As the cab driver continues to revel in the euphoria of being widely celebrated (and indeed he deserves no less) the matter has once more thrown to the fore a pertinent issue that must not be swept under the carpet. This borders on the Money Laundering of the implication of movement of such high sum of money in the country.
While there is no regulation against the movement of high sums of money across the country, the CBN Anti-Money Laundering/Counter Terrorism Financing (AML/CFT) Regulation, 2009 however mandates banks to document and report high value transactions involving their customers.
Some provisions of the AML/CFT for banks and other financial institutions are as follows:
Financial institutions are required to pay special attention to all complex, unusual large transactions or unusual patterns of transactions that have no apparent or visible economic or lawful purpose. Examples of such transactions or patterns of transactions include significant transactions relative to a relationship, transactions that exceed certain limits, very high account turnover inconsistent with the size of the balance or transactions which fall out of the regular pattern of the account’s activity.
Also, financial institutions are require d to examine as far as possible the background and purpose of such transactions and to set forth their findings in writing. They are required to report such findings to the CBN and NFIU; and keep them available for CBN, NFIU, other competent authorities and auditors for at least five years.
The AML/CFT regulation also defines a suspicious transaction as one which is unusual because of its size, volume, type or pattern or otherwise suggestive of known money laundering methods. It includes such a transaction that is inconsistent with a customer’s known, legitimate business or personal activities or normal business for that type of account or that lacks an obvious economic rationale.
With the country currently facing the risk of been blacklisted by international anti-money laundering watchdogs over its inability to track the source of funding of the Boko Haram sect and curbing terrorism financing in general, one wonders what the regulatory authorities have done concerning the owner of that N18 million that was returned.
Has any efforts being made to find out who he was, where the money was from, did he withdraw it from a bank and if he did, did the bank follow all rules regarding high transactions of that volume?
A financial expert and Chief Executive Officer, Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria (CIBN) Dr Uju Ogubunka, who spoke to LEADERSHIP on the issue said “The owner of the money need to be interviewed to find out who he is, where the money came from and what it was meant. It is also necessary to determine whether the money was withdrawn from the bank.
If it was, his bank account should be scrutinised to know whether he made a one-off withdrawal or it was an accumulation of several withdrawals.”
According to him, “Only after answers are gotten about these can one make a categorical statement about whether his conveyance of such heavy cash contravened money laundering laws.”
Though it is particularly stipulated that transaction values of N1 million for individuals and N5 million for corporate organisations should be reported by the bank to the relevant authorities. However, LEADERSHIP checks reveal that banks often fail to follow this procedures for fear of losing patronage and where such reports are done they improperly done.
Director-General, the Inter Governmental Group against Money Laundering in West Africa GIABA, Dr Abdullahi Shehu, speaking to the Committee of Chief Compliance Officers of Banks in Nigeria, (CCCOBIN) earlier this year noted that the key challenge for Nigerian financial institutions in complying with Suspicious Transaction Reports (STRs) has been the submission of large number of unhelpful STRs leading to poor investigation, improper prosecution and non convictions.
Feelers from Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the global standard setter for measures to combat money laundering, terrorist and proliferation financing, indicated that despite the earlier warnings to Nigeria on its non-compliance level, the country was yet to take any concrete step to stem the rising spate of financial crimes including terrorism financing, money laundering and corruption.
In its recent report, FATF listed Nigeria among the countries that have not made significant progress in addressing the lacunas in their Anti-Money Laundering and Combating Terrorism Financing (AML/CFT) regimes. The agency advised the international financial community on the potential risks in the country.
Recent happenings, especially the activities of Boko Haram and startling revelations from various probes by the National Assembly, are putting Nigeria under global focus and scrutiny.
It will be recalled that on June 23, 2006, FATF decided to remove Nigeria from its list of Non-Cooperative Countries and Territories (NCCTs). Since July 2001 Nigeria has been on this shame list. The cost to the economy is incalculable: inflow/outflow of transactions to Nigeria has around it a cautionary flag to the rest of the world; numerous Nigerians operating outside the country have had their financial dealings cancelled/ monitored.
The GIABA boss also regretted that despite the support of agency, Nigeria still engaged in predicate offences that assist the growth of money laundering.
“There are still gaps in the AML/CFT regimes that require priority attention. While arrests and prosecutions for money laundering offences have been increasing, they have not led to commensurate increase in conviction and deterring punishment,” he said.
Shehu said he had held various meetings with top government officials and was optimistic that the AML/CFT measures being currently put in place by the government would assist in fighting the scourges.
The passing of the CBN Anti-Money Laundering/Counter Terrorism Financing (AML/CFT) Regulation, 2009 into law in 2010 provides the country with enabling regulatory requirement for combating money laundering. However, the consensus with analysts remain that regulatory authorities have to step up their oversight functions to determine the compliance level in financial institutions.
Efforts to get the CBN to comment on its steps to ensure compliance however proved abortive as the apex bank’s spokesman Mr. Ugochukwu Okoroafor refused to pick repeated calls to his mobile line or respond to the SMS sent to him.