6 February 2018

Nigeria Risks Ban From Int'l Financial Transactions Over Egmont Threat

There are indications that Nigerians with domestic debit and credit cards will be constrained from carrying out financial transactions abroad in less than a month.

Agenda of the Egmont Working Group and Heads of FIU Meeting coming up between March 2nd and 7th, 2018 in Buenos Aires, Argentina has suggest that Egmont group, a global network of 152 Financial Intelligence Units (FIUs) is set to expel Nigeria from the global intelligence club by March 2018, reports say.

Egmont group is a global network of 152 Financial Intelligence Units. It had earlier suspended Nigeria in July 2017 following the consensus by the members of the group at the 24th plenary of the group in Macao, SAR. Their grouse is that Nigeria should separate its Intelligence Unit from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). The global body said there is high level of interference and meddling by the anti-corruption agency.

If expelled, Nigeria will be blacklisted from the global finance sector. Nigerian Banks will also be unable to issue Mastercard and Visa credit/debit cards while card transactions with Nigerian originated cards will be blocked from foreign transactions. If the body succeeds with the plan to expel Nigeria, the nation's financial institutions, especially banks will also be restricted from accessing some big-ticket international transactions.

Apart from the fact that Nigeria will no longer be able to profit from financial intelligence shared by other countries, including the US and the UK, the action will also throw spanner into the wheel of the country's drive to recover stolen funds abroad.

According to the FIUs, Nigeria's Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) is flagrantly violating Recommendation 29 of the FATF standards that stipulates that the FIU must remain independent and devoid of any form of interference.

"The Heads of FIU made a decision, by consensus, to suspend the membership status of the NFIU, Nigeria, following repeated failures on the part of the FIU to address concerns regarding the protection of confidential information, specifically related to the status of suspicious transaction report (STR) details and information derived from international exchanges, as well as concerns on the legal basis and clarity of the NFIU's independence from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

The measure will remain in force until immediate corrective actions are implemented," the body had said while announcing the consensus decision to suspend Nigeria last year.

In their meeting at Macao, the Egmont group claimed that the EFCC had continues to leak sensitive information to the media and the agency has continued to blackmail individuals using highly confidential financial intelligence available to it.

The Senate arm of the National assembly in 2017, passed a bill that allows the NFIU to be independent of EFCC. Despite claim by the EFCC Boss that NFIU has been given the right to operate autonomously, the anti-fraud agency is yet to separate the intelligence unit from its operations.

Reacting to the development, a public affairs analyst, Walter Duru noted that of all the 14 countries in West Africa with an FIU, "Nigeria is the only jurisdiction that currently domiciles its FIU in a law enforcement agency, EFCC, even when it is registered as an administrative-type FIU. This is a misnomer. Ten of the West African countries have their FIUs domiciled in their respective ministries of finance, while two others have theirs domiciled in central banks, and one in ministry of justice."

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