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May 23, 2024

EFCC, NBA move to tackle lawyers aiding criminals to launder illicit funds

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•NFIU lists real estate as key area of money laundering

By Ikechukwu Nnochiri

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, and the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, have entered into a partnership that would lead to the identification and prosecution of lawyers assisting criminals to launder illicit funds through the real estate sector.

The two institutions made this known at a workshop they collaboratively organised in Abuja yesterday to sensitive legal practitioners in the country on the need to always conduct due diligence on their prospective clients.

Chairman of EFCC, Mr. Ola Olukoyede, said the partnership had become essential, in view of huge amount of illicit financial flows usually concealed as legitimate businesses, using the help of lawyers.

The EFCC boss, who was represented at the maiden workshop by the Director of  Special Control Unit against Money Laundering, SCUML, Mr. Daniel Osei, identified money laundering and terrorism financing as a major challenge the country was currently facing.

He maintained “The framework of collaboration is an international requirement. No agency or body can do it alone,” he added.

On its part, the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit, NFIU, noted that a recent study pinpointed the banking sector and real estate as major areas of vulnerability for the country.

Chief Operating Officer at NFIU, Dr. Emmanuel Sotande, lamented that criminally-minded individuals, especially politically exposed persons, often concealed their proceeds of crime by using lawyers to buy landed assets across the federation.

He said a national risk assessment findings carried out in 2022 identified all the money laundering typologies, adding that suspects mostly use the names of family members for their crime-related transactions, while leveraging on real estate agents and lawyers.

He argued that lawyers owed it a duty to the country to report suspicious transactions to the relevant agencies, especially the NFIU and the NBA.

Sotande said, “Lawyers have a lot of responsibility because some of them help their clients to buy houses. Criminal-minded people invest or conceal their proceeds of crimes using lawyers to buy assets in real estate.

“What we can be thinking as lawyers is, do I need to consult NBA to advise me on a very sensitive transaction with a politically exposed person?

“For example, if a politically exposed person wants to do a transaction with your law firm, and you think this transaction is very sensitive, you can consult the NBA to guide you.

“Unfortunately, many lawyers have engagement with real estate practitioners and also provide real estate services. Because lawyers also engage in real estate, we need to have robust guidelines.

“The problem now is that we have some lawyers who deal in properties; so what kind of guidelines do we put in place?

“Real estate is a major vulnerability for the country and lawyers play very vital role in assisting in the purchase of assets by these persons,” the NFIU officer added.

In his remarks, NBA President, Mr. Yakubu Maikyau, SAN, urged lawyers to always observe the anti-money laundering guidelines and ensure that they strictly adhered to the rules of professional conduct while handling financial transactions.

He said the legal body would constitute a committee that would specialize on treating issues pertaining to compliance of lawyers with all the relevant anti-money laundering legislations.