May 22, 2024

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



as NFIU identifies real estate as key area of vulnerability

By Ikechukwu Nnochiri

ABUJA– 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 that assist criminals to launder illicit funds through the real estate sector.

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

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

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

He maintained that tremendous success would be recorded in the anti-corruption fight of the Federal Government, with the cooperation of legal practitioners in the country.

“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 the real estate as major areas of vulnerability for the country.

In his presentation, a Chief Operating Officer at the NFIU, Dr. Emmanuel Sotande, decried that criminal minded individuals, especially politically exposed persons, often conceal their proceeds of crime by using lawyers to buy landed assets across the federation.

He said a National Risk Assessment Findings that was 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 owe it as a duty to the country to report suspicious transactions to the relevant agencies, especially the NFIU and the NBA.

Sotande argued that there must be a change of orientation among lawyers regarding the issue of Anti-Money Laundering, AML, compliance.

“Lawyers have a lot of responsibility because some of them help their clients to buy houses. Criminal minded people invest or conceal their proceed 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 persons wants to do a transaction with your law firm, and you think this transaction is very sensitive, you can consult the NBA to guide.

“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 a 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, the NBA President, Mr. Yakubu Maikyau, SAN, urged lawyers to always observe the Anti-Money Laundering Guidelines and ensure that they strictly adhere 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.

“We are in a better position to give direction in this regard. That is why, when we came on board, we decided that our responsibility in this regard is to make the anti-money laundering guidelines and the counter-terrorism guidelines part of our rules of professional conduct.

“We should take the lead in the fight against corruption. We should actually be the ones advising the EFCC, NFIU and all other agencies on how to deal with the issues of corruption. 

“It is an aberration that the EFCC is telling us what to do,” the NBA President added.