Monday, 5 June 2017

Criminalise banks handling looted funds —Osinbajo

Criminalise banks handling looted funds —Osinbajo

ACTING President Yemi Osinbajo on Monday said that financial institutions connive with treasury looters to steal funds and has therefore called for the criminalisation and retrieval of the funds.

Speaking at the opening of a conference on Promoting International Co-operation in Combating Illicit Financial Flows and Enhancing Asset Recovery to Foster Sustainable Development, at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, he regretted that the financial institutions also expected to have “a handshake” before agreeing to return stolen money.

He noted that while proceeds from drug trafficking have been generally regarded as dirty money, it was not the same with proceeds of corruption and therefore did not attract outrage.

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He said: “Somehow proceeds from political corruption has not attracted the same outrage that proceeds from narcotics and trafficking in persons have attracted.

“It took years for some people to agree that when somebody loots money where people make decent living, that is more criminal than crime against humanity, more dangerous than trafficking in drugs.

“It is a good thing that we are here with our partners who agree that not only are these stolen assets criminalised, but that they are returned to their appropriate owners.

“There is no way the transfer of these assets can happen without a handshake between the countries that they are transferred to and the international banking institutions in the countries in which they are transferred. There is no way it will happen without some form of connivance.

“We have to look at somehow delegitimising those kind of financial institutions and criminalising them, so that banks and financial institutions that actually engage in this are called out and made to face the consequences of engaging in criminal practices.

“If that isn’t done, we are not likely to go very far.

“For there to be collaboration, there must first be connivance. In the agreement and conventions we will be signing, we must find a way and ensure that financial institutions are not given a free run and hold them accountable.”

Osinbajo admonished African and other developing countries to realise that it was their responsibility to ensure they not only found the monies, but to make sure the funds were returned.

According to him, “It is not enough to talk about it. Some countries are somehow reluctant about it. Many have civil processes that make it difficult. They say our courts are handling this matter and there is very little we can do about.

“We must make it a national call, a call for other developing countries to have the same outrage for drugs, terrorist financing for illicit financial flows.

“We must emphasise at every point and call out institutions that are not cooperating and ensuring that they recognise that this for us is a serious issue.”

Osinbajo warned that corruption could fight back and overwhelm government, noting that corrupt persons had tagged the war on corruption as media trial as a way of fighting back.

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He stated, “In Nigeria for instance where corruption fights back so eloquently that government itself if not careful can be overwhelmed, if you look at the anti-corruption fight in Nigeria, there is a major fight back in the media.

“There is a media war between people fighting corruption and those behind the stolen funds. It is called media trial. I don’t know what that means.

“If you discover for instance large sums of money in an air-condition room, there is no where it will not make news anywhere in the world.

“So, this whole idea of trying to legitimise corruption is definitely being fueled and sponsored by those who have these resources, who have stolen funds. Unless we see it as a problem that can bring down our system, then we will never be able to fight.”

In his remark, Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee against Corruption (PACAC), Professor Itse Sagay, referred to a study which showed that 55 top Nigeria government officials and private businessmen illicitly diverted a total of N1.35 trillion between 2006 and 2015.

Similarly, he said trillions of naira were lost to fuel subsidy scam in the country and millions of dollars stolen by ex-minister to allegedly bribe election officials in 2015.

He said: “A study revealed that between 2006 and 2015, 55 top government officials and private businessmen illicitly deviated in total N1.35trillion, roughly at that time $7.5 million, to themselves at the expense of ordinary Nigerian citizens. This was what was revealed. What was not revealed turned out to be far more mind boggling.

“This includes trillions squandered in fuel subsidy scam, billions from Dasuki-gate scam, hundreds of millions of dollars taken from the NNPC by the former minister to bribe election officials in 2015, the list goes on.”

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He pointed out that one-third of the stolen money could have been used to provide important infrastructure in the country.

According to him, because of the looting, Nigeria was the country in the world with the highest abandoned projects.

Sagay regretted that government officials were more interested in sharing projects moneys for their selfish benefits than completing projects.

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