By Omololu Ogunmade in Abuja
The Senate is currently battling to resolve the sharp disagreement between the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mallam Abubakar Malami, and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over the Money Laundering Prohibition (Amendment) Bill sent to the National Assembly in January by President Muhammadu Buhari.
Tagged an ‘Act to Repeal the Money Laundering (Prevention and Prohibition) Act to Provide for Measures for the Prevention and Prohibition of Money Laundering in Nigeria and for Other Related Matters 2016’, Buhari had sent the bill to the National Assembly in January 27 in order to repeal the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act 2011.
The bill, among others, provides for the revocation of the licence of any bank which fails to report cases of money laundering. It also provides jail terms for citizens who are aware of money laundering acts but fail to report such cases to the appropriate authorities.
But the EFCC has vehemently opposed the passage of the bill by the National Assembly and has advised the federal legislature to jettison it in favour of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011, currently in force.
The EFCC had argued that the provisions of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act are comprehensive enough and more effective than the Money Laundering (Prevention and Prohibition) Bill, 2016.
The anti-graft agency said that the new bill was counter-productive because it seeks to protect criminals by giving them easy escape routes.
The EFCC was also of the view that the bill provides many escape routes for money launderers, noting that: “Clause 2(2) makes it an offence for a person to conceal, disguise, convert, transfer or remove ‘from Nigeria’ any property which he knows or ought reasonably to have known or suspects that the property has a criminal origin.”
The implication, the EFCC has argued, is that once such property is not moved outside Nigeria, then no offence is committed.
This clearly creates an escape route for money launderers by arming them with a defence in the event of prosecution, the commission had argued.
The anti-graft body also rejected the bill because “Clause 4 (1) makes it an offence for a person to acquire, use or have possession of any property which he knows or ought reasonably to know or suspects that such property has a criminal origin”.
However, Section 4(2)(b) makes an exception when such a person acquires, uses or has possession of the property for adequate consideration.
This provision, the EFCC is contending, implies that once a person pays the full price for such property, then it is not a crime even if it is known that it was acquired with the proceeds of crime. This comment also applies to Section 4(3), EFCC has argued.
The agency is also contending that the bill creates unnecessary bottlenecks in the fight against money laundering, because Section 5 (4)(b) makes an exception for an untrained employee, who fails to report knowledge or suspicion of money laundering as it is fundamental that ignorance of the law is not an excuse.
“Moreover, one should not hold himself out as being capable of doing a job without the requisite skills, or he should be held accountable to established standards for the given profession,” the commission had argued.
However, the opposition of the EFCC to the bill has not gone down well with the AGF who originated the bill and wants the National Assembly to pass it as proposed.
However, the EFCC is insisting that it must be dropped because it will make its operations cumbersome.
The disagreement between the AGF and anti-graft agency has stalled further legislation on the bill, because the Senate has been handicapped from taking the bill through the second reading long after it passed the first reading.
Owing to the discord, the Senate leadership has resolved to invite the AGF and EFCC to a roundtable meeting this week with a view to resolving the conflict.
When THISDAY contacted the Senate Leader, Senator Ali Ndume, on the clash between the AGF and EFCC, he confirmed that there was a disagreement between them, which he said had stalled the second reading of the bill.
He added that the development had prompted the Senate to schedule a meeting with both of them and other relevant stakeholders with a view to securing a harmonised position on the bill so that the coast could be cleared for the bill to pass its second reading.
When THISDAY also contacted the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Anti-corruption and Financial Crimes (EFCC), Senator Chukwuka Utazi, he confirmed that progress on the bill had been stalled by the disagreement between the AGF and EFCC, stating that there was a need to resolve grey areas before going ahead with the process.
He echoed Ndume’s position that a meeting of the stakeholders had been scheduled for this week with a view to resolving what he described as grey areas in the bill.
Drawing on an analogy to illustrate the impasse, Utazi described the AGF as the tailor who designs clothes and the EFCC as the owner of the clothes, explaining that the EFCC that will use the clothes may be able to speak with more authority on its size than the tailor who only works on the design.
He said: “We are looking at the nitty-gritty of the bill so that we can have a consensus and by the time we start working on the bill, it will be easier.
“I’m sufficiently informed that we are scheduled to meet the EFCC and the AGF on the bill this week to look at all those grey areas so that they reach a compromise and take a decision on it so that when we start working on it here, the only delay will be the public hearing.
“It will allow all parties to make their case. It is not a question of the AGF and EFCC. The AGF as the originator of the bill is like a tailor who sews clothes for people of different sizes. But the EFCC knows what fits it better than the tailor but is incapacitated because it is under the minister.
“So EFCC is sometimes not forthcoming, so that it will not be seen by the ministers to be overreaching itself. We see this when carrying out our oversight functions.
“In reality, there is no disagreement, there are only grey areas. I don’t want to be pre-emptive and that is why we are all going to the drawing board.
“The EFCC wants to ensure that it meets international standards especially in the area of stolen wealth. That is why we will look at the laws in other jurisdictions.”