Monrovia – Liberia’s Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) has completed the first phase of a national risk assessment (NRA) against money laundering and terrorist financing (ML &TF).
The NRA, which will roll over a year, is to identify, assess and understand ML&TF risks and apply risk-based approach to prevent or mitigate ML&TF.
The first phase of the NRA was held from April 17-19 at the Central Bank of Liberia with representatives from 20 financial and security institutions, including the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC), Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) and GSM companies.
The NRA is being sponsored by the African Development Bank (AfDB) with technical and financial support from the Inter-Governmental Action Group against Money Laundering on West Africa (GIABA) and World Bank.
FIU director-general Alex Cuffy was understandably delighted with the kick-off after several brainstorming exercises at home and abroad.
“Our partners, who assisted us throughout this process, were pleased that we had a good set of people, who were selected and attended the workshop. And I am also pleased that they came out at the end of the day being successful.
This was not a talk shop. It was a real workshop where people worked and made presentations. So there is a lot of expectation that everything will go on fine. The real work begins. In the next six months, this is the phase where all the teams from different institutions will be collecting the data,” said Cuffy, who heads the NRA coordinating team, on April 19, 2018.
He told ECOWAS Radio that the NRA will be critical for Liberia within the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the global regulator on ML&TF.
“We will be able to clearly identify where the problems are coming from. That is what we called the threats. And then we will clearly lay out our vulnerabilities. And then we will form a framework. And we would have identified and focused our limited resources on areas of high risks.
“It [the NRA] is also important because Liberia is a part of the comity of nations. Money laundering and terrorist financing is a cross border crime. That is why FATF is involved with this whole process,” added Cuffy, who was the only Liberian to work with the international community-led Governance and Economic Management Assistance Program (GEMAP) from 2006-2010 in Liberia.
Cuffy was praised by GIABA research and planning director Muazu Umaru, AfDB chief financial economist on the prevention of money laundering and illicit financial flows (IFFs) Samuel Chukwuka Ijeh and World Bank senior financial sector specialist Cari Votava for leading Liberia’s NRA process.
The FIU, under Cuffy, has issued four AM&TF regulations with the passage of a 2016 Anti-Terrorism Act.
A governance steering committee, which is made-up of heads of 20 law enforcement entities and financial regulators, was formed as part of the NRA.
It will be chaired by CBL and jointly co-chaired by the Ministries of Finance and Development Planning and of Justice, which also co-chairs the FIU board of directors.
Atty. Lafayette Gould, who is the special assistant in the office of Liberia’s solicitor-general, said the exercise is good.
“It sets the basis for us to go out now and look for the problems that we are faced with when it comes to money laundering and terrorist financing. I am on the threat assessment committee.
“I think the workshop is an eye opener. And we are definitely going to make use of the knowledge gain from here to ensure that by the time we reached March 2019 we would have completed the process for the report to be submitted,” Gould declared.
There are 21 predicate offenses, including drug trafficking, tax evasion, corporate crime, corruption, fraud and organized theft, illegal logging and fishing, people smuggling, sexual servitude, that are linked to money laundering.
A technical working group will coordinate and collect all the data in order to hit the ground running with awareness and training opportunities.
Zobon Kolenky, asset declaration and verification officer at the Liberia Anti-Corruption Commission (LACC), believes the NRA will require a lot of attention to details.
“Liberia is a part of a community of nations and if our financial sector is vulnerable to money laundering and terrorist financing, we stand as a risky country to other nations. It affects our importation, which will also affect the prices of goods and services.
“So it is a very good thing for us to open ourselves up to this exercise and for all stakeholders to cooperate with individuals, who will be coming their way to ask questions. It is not an audit. It is about knowing how vulnerable our country is and what measures can be taken to correct those vulnerabilities. That is the important thing about his exercise,” said Kolenky.
Liberia has from October 2017 to March 2019 to complete its NRA.