Money Laundering and Terrorism Financing: a Report on GIABA’s Fifth Workshop in Banjul


By Bola A. Akinterinwa

GIABA, as a name, is the French acronym for Inter-Governmental Action Group Against Money Laundering in West Africa, that is, Groupe Intergouvernemental d’Action contre le Blanchiment d’Argent en Afrique de l’Ouest. As an institution, it was established on December 6, 2000 by the ECOWAS Authority to prevent the use of the economies of the Member States to launder money or the proceeds of crime, as well as prevent terrorist financing. The establishment of GIABA followed the recognition of threats and implications of money laundering and terrorism for regional peace and security in Lomé, Togo, on December 10, 1999.

As explicated by Timothy Melaye, Head of the Nigeria Information Centre, located at the Lagos Office of the ECOWAS in Onikan, in his paper on the mandate, role and activities of the institution, the GIABA is ‘not a law enforcement agent’ but ‘a change agent.’ In this regard, Melaye further submitted, GIABA undertakes its responsibilities through strategic plan in order to ensure a coordinated approach. As he put it, ‘the adoption and deployment of strategic plan is a disciplined and pragmatic approach that facilitates self-evaluation of its performance,’ as well as ‘make more informed choices and decisions, set future directions, establish priorities, allocate limited resources, improve operations and monitor results.’ It is within the context of this reasoning that the GIABA’s fifth workshop on public sensitisation of its activities and Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) should be appreciated.

The fifth workshop, entitled “Regional Sensitization Workshop on Anti-Money Laundering/Combating the Financing of Terrorism for Civil Society Organisations,” took place at the Paradise Hotel in Banjul, the capital of The Gambia, many times referred to as ‘the Smiling Coast of Africa, from Monday, 24th to Wednesday, 26th July, 2017. The participants and resource persons at the workshop were lodged at the Senegambia Beach Hotel where nature is at work and the air is fully oxygenated.

It was not only a follow-up to the July 2016 Open House Forum AML/CFT for the Youths Groups in The Gambia held in Banjul, but also a follow-up to the first sensitisation workshop held on August 2nd-4th, 2012 in Dakar, Senegal, the regional headquarters of the GIABA. Additionally, the Banjul workshop came on the heels of The Gambia’s preparation for its National Risk Assessment (NRA) on Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing. The second workshop was held in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, in July 2013, while the third and fourth workshops took place in Lagos, Nigeria, on August 24th-26th, 2015 and Cotonou, Benin Republic, on November 2nd-4th, 2016 respectively.
The fifth workshop, specifically, was designed to sensitise the Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) about Anti-Money Laundering (AML) and Combating Financing of Terrorism (CFT); facilitate the understanding of the roles of the CSOs as veritable non-state actors in the fight against Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing, as well as promote networking among CSOs and enhance their capacity with the ultimate objective of enabling them to take ownership of the fight against the twin scourges.

With these objectives in mind, the sensitisation workshop was divided into three main parts: opening ceremony, working sessions, and communiqué session. GIABA did not make the workshop dull. It gave meaning to the popular saying that ‘all work without play, makes Jack a dull boy.’ It organised a tour of Banjul for all the participants.

Opening Ceremony Session
In welcoming all the participants to the sensitisation workshop, the Director General of the GIABA, Colonel Adama Coulibaly, noted that the outcome of the evaluation of GIABA members, which began in September 2016 with Ghana, ‘shows that our region is improving in terms of technical compliance but (still) requires significant efforts to meet the requirements of “effectiveness.” More important, Colonel Coulibaly said that ‘most Member States are yet to address some gaps in their First Mutual Evaluation Report (MER), while the demand of the revised (FATF) standards is quite enormous. We therefore call on the CSOs to assist GIABA in advocacy for commitment by our Member States to put appropriate structures in place and fast track preparation for the on-going Mutual Evaluation. The implication of poor performance at the Mutual Evaluation is NOT a funny experience.’

In also declaring the workshop open, the Honourable Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs, represented by his Deputy Permanent Secretary, Mr. Lamin Touray, drew attention to two issues from which to learn something: first, Money Laundering was mainly associated with trafficking in illicit drugs in the beginning. Today, it refers to different predicate offences, such as sexual exploitation, trafficking in human beings, corruption and bribery, fraud, currency counterfeiting, and most recently, tax evasion. Secondly, global estimates of the amount of money laundered annually range between US$1.5 and US$3.3 trillion. As revealed by the AfDB, the Global Financial Integrity (GFI) has it that ‘Africa leads the rest of the developing world, having lost between US$1.2 and US$1.4 trillion over a 30-year period (1980-2009) through illicit financial flows (vide AfDB and GFI. 2013, page 23).

What is noteworthy at the opening ceremony, was that the Government of the host country, The Gambia, was well represented, but not at the expected level of Ministers. The reason cannot be far-fetched: the first day of the workshop, July 24th, was the opening session of the National Assembly. The many ministers had to be there for reasons of political force majeure. Mr. Cherno Marellah, Solicitor General and Legal Secretary, represented the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General, Hon. Aboubacar M. Tambedou. The Honourable Minister of Finance and Economic Affairs, Honourable Ahmadou Sanneh, was represented by Mr. Lamin Touré. Mr. Tijani Bah, Deputy Director General, Drug Law Enforcement Agency of the Gambia also represented the Government.

In their various speeches and goodwill messages, The Gambia’s commitment to the anti-money laundering and terrorist financing was made clear. For instance, the Attorney General and Minister of Justice considered that ‘money laundering and financing of terrorism are complex issues which are not easy to detect.’ Consequently, he recommended that ‘the fight against the twin menaces is a herculean task requiring concerted, coordinated, corporative, and collaborative efforts, by all stakeholders with distinct but complementary role.’

And perhaps, more interestingly, in sensitising the CSOs, Dr. Buno E. Nduka, GIABA’s Director of Programs and Projects, explained money laundering as ‘the conversion of criminal income into assets that cannot be traced back to the underlying crime,’ a definition that is in alignment with that of the United Nations. Dr Nduka differentiated between three types of money laundering: Self-laundering, which is ‘laundering of proceeds by a person who was involved in the commission of predicate offence; Stand-alone (autonomous) money laundering, which is the ‘prosecution of money laundering offences independently, without also necessarily prosecuting the predicate offence; and Third Party money laundering, which is the ‘laundering of proceeds by a person who was not involved in the commission of the predicated offence.’

More important, Dr. Nduka identified different categories of a predicate offence: participation in an organised criminal group and racketeering, terrorism and terrorist financing, human trafficking, sexual exploitation, drug trafficking, counterfeiting of currency and products, smuggling, forgery, maritime piracy, insider trading and market manipulation. In essence, Dr. Nduka holds the view that money laundering, regardless of its category, has negative implications, ranging from distortion of macroeconomic indicators and weakening of financial institutions to increase in corruption and inefficiency of government, as well as to projection of a negative image for the country.

Mr. Yahya Camara, Director of Financial Intelligence Unit of The Gambia and GIABA’s National Correspondent, shared the same view by submitting that money laundering and terrorist financing not only ‘are crucial enablers of the harms caused by crimes’ but also that they have ‘negative effects on transparency, good governance and accountability of the public and private institutions in the ECOWAS region.’ Money laundering and terrorist financing undermines rule of law (and) threatens… peace and security in the ECOWAS region.
And more disturbingly, Camara had it that money laundering and terrorist financing causes state fragility, challenges the stability and security of societies, erodes confidence in the application of the rule of law, as well as make some state officials (presidents, ministers, legislators, governors, political office holders, etc) to see political offices as opportunity for wealth acquisition. Thus, there are several issues and challenges in the fight against money laundering and terrorist financing.

Working Sessions and Issues

Several issues were raised in both the paper presentations and the general discussions that followed them but they can be summarised into three: the problem of Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing; transnational organised crimes; and the operational environments of the CSOs. At the level of money laundering and terrorist financing, the consensus was that they threaten global peace and security. The workshop condemned the engagement of reasonable people in money laundering because of its deleterious effects.
For example, as pointed out by Buno Nduka, money laundering not only distort macroeconomic indicators, weaken financial institutions, increase poverty and crimes, as well as scare away foreign investors, but also prompted economic losses. In the period from 2004-2013, ECOWAS Member States lost about US $268 billion through Illicit Financial Flows (IFFs), which are proceeds of corruption, trade-based money laundering (mis-invoicing). In this regard, of the 185 countries of the world considered, Nigeria occupied the 10th leading position in terms of loss with US $17,804.10 million. The Côte d’Ivoire (48th), Togo (49th), Liberia (71st) and Senegal 74th position followed in that order respectively.

Regarding transnational organised crimes, Dr. Joshua Bolarinwa, Senior Research Fellow at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, noted in his paper that, in spite of all efforts at containment of illicit trade and crimes, transnational organised crimes have not ceased to increase. The 2010 United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) report on ‘The Globalisation of Crime: a Transnational Organised Crime Assessment,’ states that, while the focus has been on combating organised criminal groups through investigation, arrest, and detention, these efforts have done little to reduce the threats and minimize the impact of organised crimes. Additionally, a 2017 UN report has it that illicit trade accounted for 10% of global economic output and that, in 2009, the value of illicit trade in the world was estimated at US $1.3 trillion but the estimation increased to US $ 3.6 trillion in 2014 and 4.5 trillion two years after.

More important, even though Dr. Bolarinwa identified electronic surveillance, undercover operations and confidential informants as the three main techniques of fighting transnational organised crimes, ‘combating TOC (Transnational Organised Crimes) internationally proves difficult because so many governments and economies benefit enormously from TOC.’ Russia, China, West African and Latin American politicians were cited as case studies.

Dr. Nfally Camara, lecturer and researcher with the University of Cheikh Anta Diop, raised the issue of how to evolve a complementary relationship between policy makers and the civil society. He considered the ECOWAS region as a terra cognita for organised crimes, bearing in mind the cases of Libyan crisis, Malian saga, non-controlled circulation of light arms and weapons, corruption and terrorist mutations. In his eyes, all these illegal activities undermine development and also raise the issue of people who ‘pensent que la lutte contre la criminalité organisée relève de la compétence régalienne des Etats, that is, people who ‘think that the fight against organised crimes falls within the sovereign competence of the State.’

Nfally Camara suggested, however, that ‘l’état actuel (de) la lutte contre ce phénomène nécessite la participation de tous les acteurs d’une société donnéé.’ Put differently, Camara posited that many people think that the responsibility for fighting organised crimes belongs to Government but that the current state of the fight against this phenomena now requires the involvement of the CSOs.

In the same vein, Magistrate Djeket Fulgence of the Côte d’Ivoire believes that the CSOs should play a role and be the “New Watchdog” for various reasons. For instance, this is not only because “les acteurs classiques ont échoué à le faire seuls, mais aussi et surtout parce qu’aucun acteur ne peut le faire seul,” that is, classical actors have failed by doing it alone, but also and particularly because no one can do it alone.” As he sees it, one major obstacle in the struggle against ML/TF is disregard for the rule of law. He therefore submitted that there cannot be any promotion of enduring development if there is no respect for rule of law, nor would there be enduring development without engaging in a ‘lutte éfficace contre la pauvreté that is, ‘constructive fight against poverty.’ Consequently, CSOs must unite, reorganise and avoid being used as a terrorist instrument. As he finally put it, ‘the importance of their role begins from there. It is an imperative.’

And true, it is a desideratum. However, Bola A. Akinterinwa argued at the workshop that the environmental conditionings of the work of the CSOs in the ECOWAS region are not all that conducive and that, even though the efforts deployed so far to combat money laundering and terrorist financing, have not been so successful. He observed that the hostility of many governments vis-à-vis the CSOs is largely traceable to the suspicions that CSOs can be easily used as a foreign instrument to destabilise the government in power, apart from undermining the national interest.

Perhaps more important, but more disturbing, is the non-effective coordination of the CSOs in the region, on the one hand, and the policy measures that make operational life quite difficult for the CSOs, on the other. The issue of low political will to drive the AML/CFT process was raised. That of poor funding of the implementation process of the AML/CFT programs was also raised. In fact, there are also the problems of low level of regional and international cooperation, as well as slow pace in the introduction of legislative changes in the region, raised by GIABA’s Director of Programs and Projects.

It was precisely in light of these challenges that the CSOs represented at the workshop were called upon to take full ownership of the fight against money laundering and terrorist financing. And without doubt, Madame Macaria, who not only coordinates the CSOs in Guinea Bissau, but is currently also coordinating the CSOs at the regional level, accepted greater responsibilities to ensure a zero tolerance for money laundering and terrorist financing in the region, and to ensure a prompt follow-up to the commitments agreed to in the communiqué, the session on which concluded the three-day workshop. The workshop expressed sincere gratitude to the GIABA for the organisation of the workshop.