21 June 2012

Nigeria: Our Accounts Not Frozen, Says Nigerian Embassy

Nigerian Embassy in Washington, US, has refuted reports that its bank accounts were frozen on alleged charges of money laundering.

In a statement posted on its website Wednesday, the embassy said, "these allegations are malicious and are designed to malign the integrity of the leadership of the Nigerian missions in the US."

Some reports had alleged that the accounts of the embassy as well as the Consulates in Atlanta and New York, and the Permanent Mission to the United Nations had been frozen by Wells Fargo and Bank of America on alleged charges of money laundering.

The embassy however said, "None of the Nigerian embassies and consulates in the US had had any dealing whatsoever with either of these bank," arguing that: "Accounts that did not exist could not have been frozen."

It further stated that, "It is therefore patently wrong and grossly mischievous to allege that our Embassies and Consulates in Washington, DC, New York and Atlanta had their accounts frozen by Wells Fargo and Bank of America."

The embassy said it was true that African embassies had within the past one year been facing problems banking in the US because of the Patriot's Act which imposes stringent compliance regulations to prevent possible money laundering that might be used to finance terrorist activities and other nefarious activities.

Noting that while the activities of terrorist groups like Al-Shabab in Somalia made the issue of terrorism of particular concern to Africa, the compliance regulations involve a large amount of paper work and staff time.

The statement noted that many banks thought that the amount of staff time and energy spent in fulfilling these strict compliance regulations was not justified by the profit they make in keeping the embassies accounts, and therefore, within the past 15 months, many African and Asian embassies were told to close their accounts by their bankers and look for new ones.

It added that the African Ambassadors Group, both in Washington DC and New York, had held series of meetings with the government and banking authorities in US with a view to lessening the rigour of the Patriot's Act.

It said while negotiations continue, there had neither been any argument, disagreement nor even a discussion of this issue between Nigerian and US government.

It also noted that initially, Nigerian embassies were not affected until the beginning of this year, when notices of between three to four months were given to close the accounts and look for new ones.

"Like most African Embassies, it was difficult to find banks willing to cope with the strict compliance regulations as imposed by the Patriot's Act. Those African Embassies, including that of Nigeria, which eventually found other banks could only do so through American banks which had branches in their countries.

"This is what the Nigerian Embassies did with the active support of our Central Bank. We now do business with a bank that has branches in Nigeria. The Central Bank pays our allocation to the bank and missions operate it from here," it said.

While urging Nigerians in US to disregard those publications, the statement said, "Our embassies and consulates are carrying out their normal functions and discharging their statutory obligations to their staff".

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