Nigeria: EFCC Going After Money Launderers in Real Estate Sector - Bawa

Mr Bawa identifies Abuja, Lagos and Port Harcourt as Nigeria's major black spots of money laundering activities through real estate.

The chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Abdulrasheed Bawa, has said the commission would be going all out to investigate money laundering in the real estate sector.

The investigation, according to Mr Bawa, will involve parts of Abuja, Lagos State and Port Harcourt, the state capital of Rivers State.

"So, it is a huge problem that we need to work with the media to unearth this issue. On our part, we are vigorously going after the real estates particularly in Abuja, Lagos and Port Harcourt.

"That is an avenue that we have identified as an area where they are hiding money," Mr Bawa said on Thursday while fielding questions from State House reporters at the weekly ministerial briefing organised by the presidential media team.

'Real estate values keep escalating'

While lamenting the level of corruption in the real estate sector, the EFCC chief said billions of naira were being laundered in the sector and this, according to him, has kept the market value for the real estate business to continue to escalate.

"Billions and billions of naira are being used for laundering in real estate," Mr Bawa said.

He cited examples of how $37.5million was used in acquiring a property, and "$55million was used in acquiring Avic Towers in Lagos by Kola Aluko", saying "so, you need to really sit down and determine what it is."

"Even here, we have to be very careful because there is a difference between purchase value and the current market value. The chances are that even the purchase value was inflated because the man does not care," he added.

Expressing concerns about the proliferation of landed assets in the cities and their skyrocketing values, he noted that the prices have not crashed because of criminal activities.

The EFCC chair said, "My brother here said that a kidnapper used N200 million to buy a property. It is a daily occurrence. The market value of houses has not crashed in this country.

"They are going up. Estates are cropping up in Abuja left, right, centre every day. There are estates in this country that are sold off-plan, sold and paid for."

Mr Bawa had on Tuesday while appearing on Channels TV's Sunrise Daily programme said 90 per cent of money laundering is done through the real estate sector.

CISLAC report

A 2020 report by Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), an affiliate to Transparency International (TI), identified cities like Abuja, Lagos, and Port-Harcourt as Nigeria's major black spots of high-level capital flights, adding that the media and court reports point to the involvement of criminals running fraud syndicates, drug trafficking and buying up or developing properties.

The report said, "Nigerian real estate sector has long provided opportunity for persons and companies to launder illegally acquired funds.

"The share of the real estate services to the nominal Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is estimated at around seven per cent per annum. It is a significant contributor to the economy and has the capacity to fast-track the growth of the nation's economy, if adequately structured."

The report explained that money launderers and criminals use third parties, professionals, family members and close associates to acquire high-value real estate as well as use pseudonyms to frequently open accounts through which illegal funds are diverted into high-value real estate acquisitions.

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