Abimbola Adeseyoju: We Need Special Courts to Fight Financial Crimes

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Abimbola Adeseyoju, the Managing Director of DataPro Limited, an anti-money laundering specialists outfit, speaks with Adedayo Adejobi, on fight against corruption, its procedural defects and why Nigerians should not expect more recoveries

Do you see the need for special courts to deal with money laundering cases?
Drastic situations demand drastic actions.  The magnitude of economic and financial crimes in Nigeria is quite challenging. We therefore need dedicated courts to quickly deal with cases in order to stem the tide.  Another reason for special courts is the nature of complexities involved in economic and financial crimes. Economic and financial crimes such as money laundering and terrorism financing are not your traditional crimes. Misuse of technological innovations, taking advantage of smart banking platforms and virtual currency ecosystem play significant roles in these crimes. We therefore need judges that are specially trained in these 21st century crime methodologies and the new sanction regimes associated with them. The capital market has already adopted this strategy to deal with crimes associated with the sector

What is your assessment of the war against corruption one year after?
What has changed for me is the reduction in the acts of impunity.
One major factor responsible for the pervasive corruption we have in Nigeria is the culture of impunity that goes with it; the impression that some people are above the law. I think the government has been able to correct this to some extent.
The sincerity of purpose and body language of the President have also set the tone at the top that things are going to be approached differently when it comes to official corruption at the topmost echelon of government. However, we have failed to see a permeation or translation of the sincerity of purpose of the President right down to all other arms and levels of government. The impression is being portrayed as if the President is alone, on his own, in this fight against corruption. Another major gap is the lack of coordination and collaboration among the various stakeholders involved in combating crimes in Nigeria. With better cooperation among security and law enforcement agencies, things could move better. The sincerity and commitment of the President is not enough to wage the war against corruption.

You have seen the statistics in relation to the arrests, prosecution and asset recovery. What do you think?
If after one year the total amount that has been recovered is just about N1.3 trillion then we are in for a shocker. With each passing day it becomes more difficult to trace the proceeds of crime. Time is a factor that works in favour of the money launderer. The purpose of money laundering is to conceal identity, separate proceeds of crime from source, disguise ultimate beneficial owner,  break or destroy the financial or audit trail and escape the confiscation and forfeiture that come with economic and financial crimes. The earlier financial and economic crimes are investigated and prosecuted the better the result in asset recovery.
That is why it is increasingly difficult to convict the state governors after the expiration of their immunity. Some of them have four years of protection to perfect their money laundering schemes. The luckier ones have eight years. By then all the trails are cold.  My conclusion is that the more time passes with all these cases the less we can recover. So nobody should be optimistic that things are going to be better with arrests, prosecution, conviction and asset recovery going forward

So, while he delivered the May 29 speech, what did you expect to hear?
The speech wasn’t complete because he has promised he was going to name and shame corrupt people. Besides, people expected some level of openness, and at least for a change, we were going to really hear and know the names of those who contributed to the sorry state in which Nigeria is now. To Nigerians, I think it’s totally unacceptable that he never mentioned names and figures. I think the President needs some help now. We need to put pressure to make sure the hawks in government do not kill this idea of naming and shaming.

Some people will equally argue saying, what would be the benefits and how would that help in the war against corruption.
There are global best practices in everything we do, especially in fighting crime. Part of the deficiency of the system we have been using in fighting crime in Nigeria is that people have said that our system is not dissuasive, proportionate and effective. When measuring the effectiveness for punishment for crime, those three parameters are used. We have come to a stage where measures that would deter people from corrupt practices should be fully implemented. And part of those measures is naming and shaming people involved in corrupt practices.

Looking through the data that your company has compiled, distribution of the allegedly stolen funds sums up to N13.1trillion under the previous administration. Can you shed more light on this?
What we did was a six- year review of figures in the public domain, with regards what has been lost to official graft, we found out that close to 30% of the figures in public domain had to do with the arms deal. Whilst 29% was withheld by the NNPC, with 20% going to unaccounted NLNG dividend, 3% unaccounted excess crude oil, 1% DPR unremitted royalties,1%  unaccounted NDDC funds and 1% rice waiver

You also have an overall figure as to all that was stolen; how did you arrive that?
We got our figures from what is in the public domain. And our estimate of lost funds in the past six years is about N13.1trillion. The amount that has been recovered according to our estimate is about N822 billion which is close to 1 trillion.

In crime circles, professionals talk about pressure, opportunity and rationalisation. At what point are we now?
I bet you now see the tragedy of where we are if we are to rationalise crime. And that’s part of the problems we have been facing.  Because people are under pressure and have opportunities to commit crime which they later rationalise. Part of the deterrents is to remove the opportunity so that they cannot rationalize thus leaving them to face the consequences. Every criminal has a reason behind his action. It is the duty of the state to make sure you mete out appropriate punishment. And part of the punishment is the naming and shaming.

Don’t you think sometime the state also rationalises that if I name and punish this person it will backfire?
Part of the problems we have in fighting corruption is the lack of definition. People tend to forget that conflict of interest is corruption. When people, because of personal gains and interests, subject their views above national interest then that is conflict. We need to make sure that what is good for the country comes first.

Let us look at the disparity in sentencing. Someone who steals N14 million is sentenced to 154 years in prison while another who steals $8.4 billion is sentenced to one year in prison. What’s your view on that?
Punishments are not proportionate to the crimes committed. This is indeed a major issue. We need a complete overhaul of our judicial system. The punishment regime is not dissuasive, proportionate and effective. The present system is a mockery of justice and what a sanction regime should be.

A huge number of bank officials seem culpable in the investigation process. Is there anything wrong with the banking system?
A lot of things went wrong. Essentially, what is the duty of the bank? It is to keep funds. At the end of the day, the funds would pass through the financial system. So there is no way banks will not play some roles in this plot. What is important is that a lot of recovery has also been done through the banks. They have cooperated well with the law enforcement agencies.

What informed your optimism that things would get to a logical end with justice served?
I think my only consolation is the body language of the President and the tone at the top.  But the sincerity and commitment of the President is not enough to wage the war against corruption. By now we expect that there will be road maps and concrete policies because to fight crime, you need policies, programmes, procedures and processes. Right now, the President has not been able to define these key terms; hence a lot has to be done. One year is not enough to determine the success or failure of the administration. We are hopeful that there is a lot to be done in terms of giving us concrete roadmaps, documented programmes and written policies.