The Nigerian Embassy in Washington DC has denied media claims that bank accounts belonging to the Embassy and the Nigerian Mission to the United Nations in New York were frozen by US President Barrack Obama as a result of suspected money laundering.
A press statement made available to our Correspondent by Dr. S.M. Baba, the Minister in charge of Information at the Nigerian Embassy on Wednesday said that there was no iota of truth in recent media publications that the US President directed some banks to close down the accounts of the Embassy over an allegation of money laundering.
"The attention of the Embassy has been drawn to some recent publications in the Internet press indicating that the Accounts of the Embassy have all been frozen by Wells Fargo and Bank of America on alleged charges of money laundering. These allegations are malicious and are designed to malign the integrity of the leadership of the Nigerian missions in the U.S" the statement reads in parts.
The statement further explained that it was true that African Embassies have within the past one year been facing problems banking in the U.S, stressing that the problem arose as a result of the PATRIOT'S ACT by which stringent compliance regulations were imposed by the U.S. government to prevent possible money laundering that might be used to finance terrorist activities.
The Nigerian Embassy pressed further in the statement that the compliance regulations involve a large amount of paper work and staff time, and many banks thought that the amount of staff time and energy spent in fulfilling these strict compliance regulations is not justified by the profit they make in keeping the Embassies Accounts.
"This was why within the past 15 months, many African and Asian embassies were told to close their Accounts by their Bankers and look for new ones. The African Ambassadors Group both in Washington, DC and New York have held series of meetings with Government and banking authorities in America with a view to lessening the rigor of the PATRIOT'S ACT. The negotiation continues" the statement added.
According to the statement: "Initially, the Nigerian Embassies were not affected. But at the beginning of this year, we received notices from our banks giving us between three to four months to close our Accounts and look for new ones. The reasons cited were the PATRIOT'S ACT. 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"
The statement pressed further that it was patently wrong and grossly mischievous to allege that the Embassies and Consulates in Washington, DC, New York and Atlanta had their Accounts frozen by Wells Fargo and Bank of America, adding that none of the Nigerian Embassies and Consulates in the U.S. had had any dealing whatsoever with either of these banks. "Accounts that did not exist could not have been frozen"
Dismissing envisaged diplomatic row between Nigeria and the United States, the statement maintained that there has been no argument or disagreement between the Nigerian government and that of America.
When contacted, the press sections of the United States Department of Justice, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and officials of the three banks involved, promised to send further clarifications to our Correspondent through electronic mails.