- Pledge speedy passage of Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Bill
Members of the Civil Society and House of Representatives Committee on Financial Crimes have sought for an amendment rather than repeal of the existing Legal Regime on Money Laundering, where existing institutions and contents can be brought up to speed to conform with international standards; with focus on fixing existing agencies and institutions rather than creating new ones.
The stakeholders have also called for the enactment of non-conviction-based laws that would put the burden of proof on the suspect (civil forfeiture). They further called on the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) to consider and withdraw the proposed Money Laundering (Prevention and Prohibition) Bill, 2016 and substitute same with a Bill to amend the existing legal regime.
These calls were among the recommendations contained in a communique issued at the end of a joint workshop of members of the Civil Society and House of Representatives Committee on Financial Crimes held recently at the Transcorp Hilton Hotel, Calabar, Cross River State.
Most importantly, parliamentarians in attendance at the workshop committed to ensuring the passage of the Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Bill, 2016 before the end of year 2016, according to the communiqué, which was jointly signed by the Chairman, House Committee on Financial Crimes, Hon. Kayode Oladele and Chairman, CSO Advisory Committee on Anti-corruption campaign in Nigeria, Mr. ‘Lanre Suraju.
The workshop was jointly organised by the United Nations Development Programme and the Financial Crimes Committee of the Federal House of Representatives with funding from the European Union.
It sought to promote the critical role of the Legislature in combating financial crimes; to afford the Committee members the opportunity to acquire in-depth knowledge of relevant Bills for combating corruption and financial crimes; and to engender synergy between the Legislature and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), thereby creating a feedback mechanism for the public on the legislative approach and effects on the war against corruption in Nigeria.
Participants and resources persons at the forum were drawn from the House of Representatives, Civil Society groups, Federal Ministry of Justice, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the Cross River State Government, academia and the Media.
The workshop was declared open by the Deputy Governor of Cross River State, Prof. Evara Esu, and had presentations and plenary sessions on the Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Bill 2016 and the Money Laundering (Prevention and Prohibition) Bill, 2016.
There were opening remarks by Hon. Oladele, while additional remarks were made by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, represented by the Chairman, House Committee on Public Petitions, Hon. Nkem Abonta, Mr. Suraju of the CSOs Advisory Committee, and Mrs. Kehinde Olorunleke on behalf of the UNDP.
After presentations by resource persons, and exhaustive deliberations by participants on the two relevant Bills (Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Bill, 2016 and Money Laundering (Prevention and Prohibition) Bill, 2016 led by Mr. Ike Udunni of the Federal Ministry of Justice; Mr. Godwin Iheabunike of the Federal Ministry of Justice, and Mr. Francis Usani (Director, NFIU), some observations were made at the forum.
Participants noted that corruption is a major issue in Nigeria and looted funds are laundered abroad and that lawyers and bankers play roles in the matters of proceeds of crime and assets acquired in Nigeria, and that the burden of proof should be on the owner of suspected properties and not proceeds of crime.
The forum observed that Nigeria is signatory to crucial international anti-corruption agreements and instruments and is obligated to ensure that effective legislation is in place to fight corruption. Participants also noted that Nigeria’s problem is systemic and should be fought within the ambits of the law.
To the participants, there is the need to expedite action on the passage of the Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Bill, 2016 to ensure the early admission into the membership of the global Financial Action Task Force (FATF), which Nigeria has applied for. They also noted that in conforming to international best practices, Nigeria must also look at local peculiarities to ensure a more successful fight against corruption.
They noted that the Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Bill, 2016 was an Executive Bill presented to the National Assembly in February 2016 but the right political will is needed by the Executive to ensure its passage. It was observed that not all best practices are suitable to Nigeria’s domestic needs, necessitating the promotion of better and ideal situation for Nigeria.
Participants noted that Nigeria is currently under the process of becoming a FATF member, and that Nigeria’s membership is being considered based on the current Money Laundering Law, therefore attaining membership status of the FATF, a repeal of the existing law (Money Laundering Act 2012) will be counterproductive to Nigeria’s efforts in this direction.
Participants also urged the civil society and relevant international agencies to engage the Executive through the AGF to show commitment towards the early passage of the Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Bill, 2016 before the Mutual Evaluation process coming up in the first quarter of 2017.
They called on the AGF to consider and withdraw the proposed Money Laundering (Prevention and Prohibition) Bill, 2016 and substitute same with a Bill to amend the existing legal regime. They also called for a meeting between the relevant members of the National Assembly, Ministry of Justice, Office of the HAGF and the Civil Society for the purpose of reworking the Bill and to fashion out the way forward towards the passage of the two Bills under consideration.