EFCC Chair Seeks Legislation Against Unexplained Wealth

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The Chairman, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mr. Ola Olukoyede, has called for legislation against unexplained wealth as a way of checking the criminal activities of treasury looters in the country.

He made the call on Thursday, at a two-day International Law Conference with the theme: “Unexplained Wealth in the Global South: Examining the Asset Recovery and Return Trajectory” organised by Christopher University, Mowe Ogun state.

EFCC Head, Media & Publicity, Dele Oyewale, who made this known in a press statement, on Friday in Abuja, said the anti-graft agency boss noted that though several countries, including the United Kingdom, Australia, Mauritius, Kenya, Zimbabwe and Trinidad and Tobago, had embraced the Unexplained Wealth Orders (UWOs) since it came into force in 2018, the EFCC, Nigeria’s leading anti-graft agency, EFCC was still depending on the provisions of Section 7 of its Establishment Act to check the menace.

“The issue of unexplained wealth is not a local issue. There are jurisdictional legislations across the world to tackle it. Till date, countries of the world are faced with criminalities emanating from money laundering practices and illicit funds. This circumstance led to the promulgation of Unexplained Wealth Orders, UWOs that came into force in 2018.

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Several countries, such as the United Kingdom, Australia, Mauritius and African countries like Kenya, Zimbabwe, and Trinidad and Tobago in the Caribbean have come up with UWO. Nigeria is yet to come up with a national legislation on it,” he said.

The EFCC boss, who spoke through the Abuja Zonal Commander, Assistant Commander of the EFCC, ACE1 Adebayo Adeniyi, emphasized that treasury looters would have little cover if the issue of unexplained wealth was tackled more seriously across the world.

According to Olukoyede, “In Nigeria today, unexplained wealth has become practical means of tracing, identifying, investigating and prosecuting corruption cases. As an anti-graft agency, suspects of any economic and financial crimes are usually required to declare their assets in the course of investigation.

“The basis for this is to properly establish their true asset base and their linkage or otherwise to any act of corruption. Owing to the absence of a legislation on the issue of unexplained wealth, the EFCC continues to rely on provisions of Section 7 of its Establishment Act to handle it.”

Olukoyede also used the occasion to throw more light on the Commission’s experience regarding assets recovery, saying  the concerns about unexplained wealth bordered on asset tracing, investigation and recovery.

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He said: “Nations are rapidly settling for non- conviction based asset forfeiture. The reason for this is simple: unexplained wealth can only be beneficial to the state if they are forfeited. Since inception, the EFCC has secured sizable assets from fraudsters. They range from houses, vehicles, barges, jewelry , money, furniture items, landed properties, among others.

Explaining further, he stated that, “procedures for asset forfeiture usually involve prosecution of the suspected fraudster. Assets may be forfeited on an interim basis and may also be forfeited permanently depending on the position of the law and the court. However, whether interim forfeiture or permanent forfeiture, what is important is for every ill- gotten wealth to be recovered and kept with the government.”

He  urged the public to be forthcoming with information about suspicious assets in their various communities, as the Commission would work better only if intelligence and information were readily available.

On the realities of countries in the global south concerning asset recovery, Olukoyede pointed out that, “Countries in the global South are still far away from a culture of public accountability. Ethnic and religious biases often stand in the way of full disclosure of information by people in third world countries. The implication of this is that anti- corruption agencies can only operate based on the intelligence available to them.”

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While talking about the hurdles in asset recovery in Nigeria, Olukoyede punctured the technicality of prosecution of looted assets that sometimes requires publication in major newspapers.

“This takes time. Sometimes, delay may come from some fraudulent claims to frustrate the forfeiture proceedings. In all of these, what is paramount are facts available to the court. At the end of it all, assets are always recovered permanently for the benefits of all.

“Also, recovery of stolen funds stashed in foreign jurisdictions is more complex. Institutions of state are usually involved in the recovery of such funds and this takes far more time and effort. The return trajectory involved in this may even take years and this can be really frustrating to anti- corruption agencies or government institutions involved in the recovery. Nigeria is having such instances in the recovery of looted funds by many government officials,“ he said. (Blueprint)

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