Ignorance, they say, is not an excuse in law. In other words, you cannot defend you actions or inactions by claiming that you not know that it is offensive to the law.
Laws are made to provide standards, regulations, our conducts and ensure a sane society.
One of the most pronounced crimes in Nigeria that seems to have defied all laws is corruption. More often than not, those caught in the web of corruption feign ignorance of their crime. It is one crime that has dented Nigeria’s image internationally.
In the Transparency International 2022 Corruption Perceptions Index, Nigeria scored 24 on a scale from 0 (“highly corrupt”) to 100 (“very clean”).
When ranked by score, Nigeria came 150th among the 180 countries in the Index, where the country ranked last is perceived to have the most corrupt public sector.
The proceeds from the illicit acts are laundered abroad. While some of them are discovered and repatriated, most go unnoticed and contribute to the ‘host’ country’s economy.
The United States (US) Treasury Department in a report explained that money laundering is the process of making illegally-gained proceeds to appear legal.
The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in its Anti-Money Laundering/Combating Finance of Terrorism (AML/CFT) Policy and Procedure Manual 2018 says money laundering is “the act of directly or indirectly concealing or disguising any fund or property that is derived from the proceeds of an unlawful activity.”
Money laundering according to forensic experts come in different forms, including Placement, which refers to putting the illegitimately earned money into a legitimate stream of commerce.
Layering, they say, entails placing the money continuously, in smaller chunks, through multiple legal transactions to make its origin harder to trace.
According to them, there is also integration which denotes returning the money into the hands of the owner so it can be spent without drawing suspicion from the authorities
Each of these stages, legal experts explained, requires an establishment of legitimate business and cover-up the illegal funds.
Nigeria has responded to the fight against corruption through the establishment of various anti-corruption institutions such as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC)
The first legislation on the subject in Nigeria was Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act 2004.
It was repealed and re-enacted in 2011 and amended in 2012. Nigeria’s law on money laundering Act is said to derive inspiration from the Proceeds of Crimes Act 2002 of the UK.
In 2022, Nigeria further demonstrated its determination to tackle money laundering headlong by repealing the law and enacted the Money Laundering (Prevention and Prohibition) Act, 2022. This new law is wider in scope.
However, public awareness regarding this law has been minimal and conscious of this, EFCC recently organised a workshop for journalists to educate them on the law and equip them with the skills to take the message to the populace.
Mr Chris Mishella, an EFCC lawyer said the Act had provided a more effective and comprehensive legal and institutional framework not only for the prohibition but for the prevention, detection, prosecution and punishment of money laundering and other related offences.
The Act, Mishella said, strengthened the existing system for combating money laundering and related offences.
He said under the new law, a money launder is any person or body corporate, in or outside Nigeria, who directly or indirectly conceals or disguises the origin of, converts or transfers, removes from the its jurisdiction.
“Or any person or body who acquires, uses, retains or takes possession or control of any fund or property, intentionally, knowingly or reasonably ought to have known that such fund or property is, or forms part of the proceeds of an unlawful act’’.
Besides it includes transactions with proceeds from criminal activities, such as terrorism and terrorist financing; trafficking in persons; illicit arms trafficking, illicit trafficking in stolen goods; and corruption.
It also includes bribery, fraud, currency counterfeiting among others.
It prohibits individual and corporate bodies, except in a transaction through a financial institution, from making or accepting cash payment exceeding the sum of N5 million or its equivalent and N10 million or its equivalent, respectively.
A glimpse shows that its Section 2 (2) forbids a person to conduct two or more transactions separately, with one or more financial institutions or designated non-financial businesses and professions, with intent to avoid the duty to report a transaction which should be reported under the Act.
“Section 4(1) states that a financial institution and a designated non-financial business and profession shall identify a customer, whether permanent or occasional, natural or legal person or any other form of legal arrangements.
“This shall be done using identification documents as may be prescribed in any relevant regulation; verify the identity of that customer using reliable, independent source documents, data or information”, Mishella said.
The EFCC lawyer said the law also provides that legal professional privilege and the invocation of client confidentiality.
Earlier, Mr Abdulrasheed Bawa, Executive Chairman of the commission, said that the workshop was one of the efforts of the commission to build synergy and strengthen media understanding and appreciation of it functions.
“The robust reporting of the activities of the commission has been quite helpful. Let me also use this opportunity to state that the EFCC remains committed to its mandate of tackling all forms of economic and financial crimes across the country,” he said.
The EFCC said the commission secured 3,785 convictions in 2022, a 70.5 per cent improvement over its record for 2021, which was 2220 conviction.
The anti-graft agency, he said, recorded a 98.93 per cent success rate in prosecution within the year, losing only 41 cases, representing 1.07 per cent of the cases within the period.
He said that conviction figures from economic and financial crime prosecutions in 2023 are rising.
He urged journalists to be more involved in the fight against corruption though more in-depth investigative journalism.
Bawa told the newsmen that the Money Laundering (Prevention and Prohibition) Act 2022 had become a new mechanism for the fight against money laundering practices in the country.
This and the Terrorism (Prevention and Prohibition) Act 2022, he said, were fresh legal armaments against illicit financial flows.
Mr Dele Oyewale, the Assistant Commander, Public Affairs Unit of EFCC, Abuja, tasked journalists to embrace investigative reporting and provide leads for the commission.
Investigative reporting, Oyewale, said, was the pride of the journalism and called on the participants to indulge in journalism of penetration, exploration, intensification and exhaustive inquiries.
Mrs Oluwakemi Olawoyin, Head, Cyber Crimes Unit in EFCC, Benin, urged the public to be cautious while undertaking e-businesses or transactions to avoid being defrauded.
From every indication the Act is comprehensive enough to spur greater action against sleaze. What remains is the ability of those entrusted with implementing it to summon the required degree of political will and conscience to utilise it to the benefit of Nigerians. (NANFeatures)