Fagbemi praises Nigeria’s anti-money laundering efforts

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Nigeria’s Minister of Justice and Attorney General, Mr. Lateef Fagbemi has said that Nigeria is becoming a leader in global anti-money laundering efforts. Mr. Fagbemi spoke at the opening of the 40th GIABA Technical Commission and Plenary meeting held in Abuja, Nigeria’s capital on Thursday.

The Inter-Governmental Action Group against Money Laundering in West Africa (GIABA) is a specialized institution of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) responsible for strengthening the capacity of ECOWAS member states towards the prevention and control of money laundering and terrorist financing in the region.

According to Mr. Fagbemi, the Federal Government is determined to build on past successes in AML/CFT and would continue to provide a conducive environment for organizations saddled with the responsibility of fighting money laundering and financial crimes to carry out their assignments without hindrance.

“It is important that we take time to reflect on how we, as leaders, in our countries have contributed to strengthening our national AML/CFT/CPF frameworks. I believe that the FATF Standards are merely the minimum benchmark that we must all aspire to in order to address the serious criminal offences that are prevalent in our countries and across our region.”

He also noted that being the regional institution responsible for strengthening the capacity of member States to fight money laundering and terrorist financing, the importance of GIABA has only increased over the decades.

He noted that the West African region faces a myriad of challenges, from the threats of illicit financial flow to the existential dangers posed by terrorist groups. These challenges, he said, are not confined to West Africa, but span across the globe, thus underlining the importance of regional and international cooperation at the core of efforts to combat money laundering, terrorist financing, and the financing of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction”.

Mr. Fagbemi noted that leaders of member countries must provide a conducive environment for organizations saddled with the responsibility of fighting money laundering and financial crimes to carry out their assignments without hindrance.

“Our legal frameworks, policies, and institutional capacities must aspire to put in place the foundations necessary to achieve the vision of the Africa 2063 Agenda, of an integrated, prosperous, and peaceful Africa, driven by its own citizens, representing a dynamic force in the international arena”.

Speaking further, he said that Nigeria has taken cogent steps to ensure that its agencies responsible for AML/CFT efforts are well-resourced. According to him, Nigeria has reviewed the budgets of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC), and the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) with an increase of almost 95%.

He reiterated that this sustained investment has seen increased numbers of investigations, prosecutions, and convictions consistently since 2021 with 5,118 investigations, 1,509 prosecutions, and almost 500 convictions secured resulting in over 45 billion naira of illicit proceeds seized.

“We are also pleased to report that in May this year, we launched our National Open Central Register of Beneficial Ownership. This register which is publicly accessible, in line with the provisions of the United Nations Convention Against Corruption, has been acknowledged as a regional and global model for the transparency of legal persons and will further enhance the ability of our law enforcement authorities and prosecutors to investigate and bring to justice individuals who seek to use corporate vehicles to facilitate the laundering of their illicit earnings”.

Also speaking, the Director General of GIABA, Mr. Edwin W. Harris Jnr said the regional institution is not resting on its oars in its drive to curb Money laundering activities within the West African region.

Mr. Harris said that the GIABA plenary is a testament to the collective effort of stakeholders and governments in the region to fight against Money Laundering, Terrorist Financing and other forms of transnational crimes. According to him, there is an urgent need for “coordination and cooperation with oneness of purpose in protecting our economies and preventing other adverse activities to our national and regional security.”

While encouraging member States to create a mechanism that makes criminal activities less profitable, he said such a mechanism must form a “core part of our fight against Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing and other transnational crimes. It becomes more imperative that the mandate of GIABA restricted to fighting Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing in keeping the economies of West Africa safe be visited to include other major components in keeping with emerging trends and current day realities”.

In his goodwill message, the Vice President of the Financial Action Task Force, FATF, Mr. Jeremy Weil, commended GIABA member nations’ collective efforts in supporting effective Anti-Money Laundering (AML) and Counter Financing of Terrorism (CFT) measures within the region. He solicited that such efforts should be sustained.

“I’d like to take a moment today to recognize all those who have led and championed this work, including GIABA members, the GIABA Secretariat, and of course the GIABA contact group co-led by Senegal and Ghana, with the participation of Nigeria, Ivory Coast and the ECOWAS Commission”.

As part of the statutory meetings, the 27th meeting of the GIABA Ministerial Committee (GMC) will also be held on Saturday, 18 November 2023. The GMC is the policy-making organ of GIABA. It comprises the three GIABA line ministers from all member States (Ministries of Finance, Security/Interior, and Justice). The meeting will, among other things, consider and adopt the Director General’s Summary Activity Report and the Report of the 40th GIABA Technical Commission/Plenary.