Senate moves against public servants with unexplained sources of wealth

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…Seeks swift prosecution of money launderers, terrorists’ financiers

By Henry Umoru

The Senate yesterday considered two critical bills seeking to facilitate the swift prosecution of money launderers and terrorist’ financiers in Nigeria, and make public servants explain sources of their wealth, especially after leaving office.

The two pieces of legislation are the Money Laundering (Prevention and Prohibition) Bill, 2021 and Money Laundering (Prevention and Prohibition) (Repeal & Re-enactment) Bill, 2021.

Both bills, which scaled second reading at plenary yesterday, were sponsored by Senator Suleiman Umar (APC, Kwara North) and Suleiman Abdu Kwari (APC, Kaduna North).

Leading debate on the general principles of the first bill, Senator Umar explained that the legislation sought to repeal the extant Act and enact the Money Laundering (Prevention and Prohibition) Act, 2021 to provide a more comprehensive legal and institutional framework for the prevention and prohibition of money laundering in Nigeria.

According to him, the bill takes into consideration the changing patterns and manifestation of money laundering as an offense which includes investment or funds transferred, made or obtained fraudulently into legitimate businesses to make the illicit funds difficult to trace.

He said the United Nations Office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention (UN-ODCCP) (1999) described money laundering as the concealment or disguising of the true nature, source, location, disposition, movement rights with respect to or ownership of property, knowing that such property was derived from an offence.

He, therefore, added that the bill when enacted, would provide the framework for the prosecution of public servants with unexplained sources of wealth.

Umar said: “Mr. President, my Distinguished Colleagues, many public servants who are entrusted with managing public funds for the benefit of the larger society are often accused of creating phantom companies, over-pricing of contracts, use of fronts to pay for contracts not executed or poorly executed while others have been accused of carting away huge sums of public funds and stashing them in foreign bank accounts.

“It is against this background that successive administrations paid attention to the prevention, prohibition and punishment of money launderers.”

The lawmaker gave some of the earliest legislations introduced in Nigeria to tackle the menace of money laundering to include the Money Laundering (Exchange Control (Anti Sabotage) Decree No.7 1984; the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency Decree No. 48 of 1989 (now CAP 29 Law of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004; the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2003; and the Money Laundering Decree No.3 of 1995.

He noted that the defects and inadequacies of previous legislations on money laundering led to a series of legislative reforms which culminated in the enactment of the Money Laundering Act, 2011.

He said the bill under consideration, however, sought to repeal and enact to make provisions for a comprehensive and effective anti-money laundering legislation, taking into consideration the changing patterns and techniques now being employed by money launderers in today’s global village, driven by technological advancement.

Contributing to the debate, Senator Smart Adeyemi (APC, Kogi West), who threw his weight behind  the bill, said the legislation when enacted, would allow government probe those who had held public offices with unexplained sources of monies and properties within and outside the country.

He added that the present administration had tackled the issue of corruption headlong more that previous governments in the history of Nigeria.

“There is no doubt that this government, more than any government in the history of our country, has taken the crusade against money laundering and corruption as a task that must be achieved.

“Mr. President, there is no doubt that billions of dollars and pounds abroad have been siphoned from our system to foreign nations, especially by those who have held political offices in the past.

“In seconding this bill, Mr. President, I want to say we must equally look at how we can enlarge the net of exposing and arresting those who have siphoned money out of this country.

“This bill must take into consideration, public holders and their immediate families who have properties abroad, to give account of how they acquired these properties.

“In this country, many people who have held public office in times past, what they have done is to siphoned monies abroad to buy properties in the names of their wives and children.

“I want to submit, Mr. President, that there is need to do an x-ray of all who have held public office in Nigeria, to look at how they acquired their properties, and their children and immediate families. That is when we can be seen to be fighting corruption.”

“Anybody who has held public in times past, should be ready to give account.  Our country is bleeding, there is no job, people are dying of poverty. I support this bill,” Adeyemi said.

In his contribution, former Deputy President of the Senate, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, said: “The initial bill itself was not detail in terms of what reforms it intends to bring to bear on issue of money laundering but the second bill was more specific.

“So I believe there is absolute need to combine the two. We need to be sure that we are not over designating, because some of the issues raised are the things that are within the powers of EFCC. The special unit that was mentioned in the second bill is already been implemented by EFCC.

‘’So if we go further to provide probably a chief executive for that special unit, then we are going to have problems between the executive chairman of EFCC and the unit under him.

“So we need to be a little careful in creating some of these units and ensuring that if we give powers to government institutions, they should be allowed to do their things, instead of sabotaging them further by creating some new agencies under them or units that will sometimes conflict with their responsibilities and then there is problem.”

On his part, former Senate Leader, Senator Mohammed Ndume, APC, Borno South, said:  “These laws were there before but were not strong enough to meet the international standard. Any time you bring up the issue of corruption the first target is the politician but if you look at it critically, you discover that after leaving office, you will not see them still leaving in affluence.

“This law is something that the National Assembly should strive to support, so we can do what is needful of us and nip this problem in the bud. This Act that is before us, the ICPC, the EFCC is yet to be effective,, why, because there is fundamental constitutional problem that impedes the fight against corruption.

“So the burden of prove is on the prosecutor. When we work on this bill, we should look at it  holistically and shift the burden of proof of innocence unto the accused.”

The Money Laundering (Prevention and Prohibition) Bill, 2021, and Money Laundering (Prevention and Prohibition) (Repeal & Re-enactment) Bill, 2021, after consideration were both referred by the Senate President, Ahmad Lawan, to the Committee on Anti-Corruption and Financial Crimes for further input.

The committee, chaired by Senator Suleiman Abdu Kwari, was given four weeks to report back to the upper chamber.

VANGUARD NEWS NIGERIA

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