By Tobi SoniyiÂ in Lagos
The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) has threatened to suspend its high-level mission visit to Nigeria scheduled for November 20-21 2017 should the country fail to meet the demands of the Egmont Group of Financial Intelligence Units (FIUs).
The meeting was slated as a fact-finding mission to enable FATF determine whether Nigeria has met the requirements for its readmission into the Egmont Group.
The Financial Action Task Force (on Money Laundering), also known by its French name, Groupe d’action financiÃ¨re (GAFI), is an intergovernmental organisation founded in 1989 on the initiative of the G7 to develop policies to combat money laundering.
In 2001 its mandate was expanded to act on terrorism financing. It monitors countriesâ€™ progress in implementing the FATF recommendations by peer reviews of member countries.
The FATF secretariat is housed at the headquarters of the OECD in Paris.
The threat to suspend its visit to Nigeria was contained in a statement yesterday in Abuja by Salihu Isah, Special Adviser, Media and Publicity to the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN).
He said the latest warning to Nigeria from FATF stemmed from the failure to implement the Egmont Groupâ€™s requirements, which could have serious consequences, as it will begin by suspending its mission to Nigeria.
Nigeria was fully admitted into the Egmont Group in 2007, after operational admittance in 2005, in what was considered one of the biggest achievements of the Olusegun Obasanjo administration.
Last July, the group suspended Nigeria as a result of the interference of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in the workings of the NFIU. It asked the country to amend its law establishing the NFIU to make it autonomous or get expelled by January 2018.
Besides, Egmont Groupâ€™s decision, by consensus, to clamp down on Nigeria arose from repeated failures on the part of the NFIU to address concerns regarding the protection of confidential information specifically related to the status of suspicious transaction report (STR) details and information derived from international exchanges.
The group, however, expressed hope that the Nigerian authorities would address these concerns to enable it to lift the suspension as soon as possible.
About 354 participants, representing 112 FIUs, were in attendance at the meeting.
The Senate has since passed a bill granting the Nigerian unit autonomy, a move that has been resisted by the EFCC where it is currently domiciled.
Malamiâ€™s media aide, however, said in the statement that the federal government would do what was necessary to meet the demands for the autonomy of the NFIU in order to be readmitted to the Egmont Group.
While acting as president, Professor Yemi Osinbajo (SAN) had constituted a high-powered ad hoc-committee chaired by the Chairman, Senate Committee on Anti-Corruption and Financial Crimes Senator Chukwuka Utazi and mandated the committee to ensure that Nigeria meets the requirements as demanded by Egmont Group and FATF.
The committee has since concluded its work and submitted its report to the presidency.
However, in a recent letter by the FATF to the justice minister, its president, Santiago Otamendi expressed concern over Nigeriaâ€™s repeated failures on its FIU, which may lead to the suspension of FATFâ€™s visit to the country.
The purpose of the mission to Nigeria in November is to confirm the countryâ€™s level of commitment to its objectives, especially its standards.
The FATF secretariat in France, through a letter dated 29 August 2017 titled, â€˜Suspension of Egmont Group Membership Status of the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit,â€™ also stated that the visit would provide FATF member nations with the assurance that Nigeria is ready to undergo a successful mutual evaluation within three years.
The letter read: â€œI have been informed by the President of the Egmont Group of Financial Intelligence Units, Mrs. Hennie Verbeek-Kusters, of the recent suspension of the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unitâ€™s Egmont Group membership status, following the Egmont Groupâ€™s decision of July 5th, 2017.
â€œI would like to share with you our serious concerns regarding the reasons that motivated this decision, notably the repeated failures of the FIU Nigeria to address concerns regarding the protection of confidential information as well as concerns about the legal basis and the FIUâ€™s independence via-a-vis the Nigerian Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
â€œThese issues are indeed core elements of the anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financing framework promoted by the FATF recommendations.
â€œThese issues could, therefore, have implications on the Federal Republic of Nigeriaâ€™s membership process for the FATF, if not addressed timely and properly ahead of the High-Level Mission originally scheduled for 20-21 November 2017.
â€œThe purpose of this visit is indeed to confirm the Federal Republic of Nigeriaâ€™s high-level commitment to the FATF objectives, including full and effective implementation of FATF standards, and to provide FATF members with the assurance that Nigeria is ready to undergo a successful mutual evaluation within three years.
â€œIn order for this membership process to move forward, I would encourage the Federal Republic of Nigeria to take all necessary measures to address these concerns and ensure that conditions for a successful High-Level Mission are met before November 2017.
â€œI look forward to hearing from you on the steps taken by the Nigerian Government to further demonstrate your commitment to FATF.â€