Sunday, 26 November 2017

TRACKING NOXIOUS FUNDS

The 'twin-city conferences' on 'Strategies and techniques for whistle-blowing and tracing property purchased and investments from proceeds of bribery and corruption transferred to the West and tax havens' moved from Lagos to Abuja on the 23rd of November, 2017. The conference was hosted by the Kent Law School, University of Kent and sponsored by the MacArthur Foundation in collaboration with the Institute of International Education (IIE). The other partners were Corner House, Global Witness, Finance Uncovered and Human & Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA Resource Centre). A unique aspect of the conference was the 'klepto tour' on the second day, when participants were taken on a guided tour of property seized by the Economic & Financial Crimes Crimes Commission (EFCC) in Abuja.

I was a resource person at the conference, specifically for the session on 'What works and what has been failing: Multi-disciplinary approaches and best practices in asset recovery operations and international partners' engagement'. My submission was that beyond tracing noxious funds, prevention of such magnitude of looting needs to be adequately prevented through stricter procurement laws, building of strong institutions rather than strong individuals and mainstreaming women into the anti-corruption debate, since they bear the brunt of an empty treasury necessitated by graft, which excludes citizens from quality education, health care, infrastructure, etc.

Some of the other critical issues discussed were:

*Conducting company and land registry searches and the use of the Freedom of Information Act in Nigeria
*The A-Z of international company and property search.
*Breaking corruption scandals at home and abroad: The citizen as journalist and the journalist as citizen.
*Tracing noxious illicit financial flows: Updates on the law and practice of asset recovery from Europe to Africa.
*Navigating Nigeria's perilous terrain of grand corruption from whistle-blowing to convictions: A case for criminal justice reforms.
*Anatomy of national and international criminal law and the prosecution of international financial crimes.
*Identifying, investigating and linking enablers of money laundering and hidden off-shore assets
*Tracking bloody oil and diamonds: Research and resilience in holding power to account.
*Next steps: What is needed to form a partnership against corruption among Nigerian activists in furtherance of asset recovery.

Some of the participants were:

*Dr. Gbenga Oduntan -  Associate Prof, Kent Law School, University of Kent, UK
*Olanrewaju Suraju - Chair, HEDA Resource Centre & Civil Society Network Against Corruption (CSNAC)
*Dr. Kole Shettima -  Director, MacArthur Foundation, Abuja
*Ibrahim Magu -  Ag. Chairman, EFCC
*Prof Bolaji Owasanoye - Executive Secretary, Presidential Advisory Committee on Anti-Corruption
*Femi Falana - SAN, Lawyer
*Akin Ajibola - Lawyer
*Nicholas Hildyard - Founder/Director, The Corner House
*Simon Taylor - Director, Global Witness, UK
*Lionel Faull - Investigative Journalist, Finance Uncovered, UK
*Dr. Dayo Oluyemi-Kusa - Independent Consultant/Conflict Transformation Expert
*Antonio Enricho - Italian Engineer/Analyst/Editor
*Prof Yemi Akinseye-George - SAN, Nigerian Professor of Public Law
*Dr. Fatima Waziri-Azi - Project Officer, PACAC
*Kayode Ogundamisi - Blogger/Activist

The conference was targeted at anti-corruption activists, media practitioners, compliance officers, anti-corruption agencies, opinion leaders, bloggers, lawyers, conflict transformation specialists, mediators, etc. The course offered practical, doctrinal and procedural introduction to researching UK, USA and some other countries' property ownership and company registries, using public sources of information. Real life problem scenarios were solved under supervision by expert facilitators.

At the end of the day, participants were able to quiz world-renowned experts who have worked on some of the high profile anti-corruption investigations in the UK, with a view to being able to conduct such search un-assisted. It was suggested that beyond the whistle-blower policy, there should be a whistle-blower law, Proceeds of crime Act and Foreign corrupt practices Act. A new coalition of concerned citizens was born, who could effectively conduct searches where there is suspicion of illicit transfer of funds.

The conference was indeed a major addition to the armoury of the anti-corruption crusade. My suggestion is that the trained individuals should form the core of local resource persons who could train others - Training of other potential Trainers (TOT). The conference should not be a one-off affair, but a once or twice yearly undertaking to update knowledge in this field...      

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