Liberia: Financial Intelligence Unit Challenges Legislature on Anti-money Laundering Initiatives

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Monrovia – The head of Liberia’s Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) has challenged the Legislature to support anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT) initiatives in Liberia.

Alex Cuffy called on the Legislature to enact AML/CFT laws and provide resources for sectoral stakeholders through budgetary appropriations and legislative representation or advocacy.

Cuffy was speaking on the “role of the legislature in combating illicit financial flows (IFFs) in Liberia” before the plenary of the House of Representatives.

It followed a letter from Grand Bassa County District #5 Representative Thomas A. Goshua, II to plenary to invite the FIU, having attended a parliamentarian forum on how to support the fight against IFFs and AML/CFT initiatives in Abuja, Nigeria.

Cuffy encouraged the legislature to hold AML/CFT entities accountable for the performance of their duties through legislative oversight.

“If I am doing my work, the legislative branch or House of Representatives has the powers to check on me. You are also admonished to attend some of these AML/CFT workshops, conferences and forums so that you can be better acquainted with these things,” he told plenary on May 3, 2018.

Cuffy said the FIU will work with House Speaker Bhofal Chambers, Deputy Speaker Prince Moye, Chief Clerk Mildred N. Sayon and committees on security, judiciary, foreign affairs and ways, means, finance and development planning.

Successes of the FIU

Since its creation by a 2012 act of the legislature (approved on April 30, 2013 and publish on May 2, 2013) as the national agency responsible for receiving, requesting, conducting preliminary investigations, analyzing and disseminating information to competent authority concerning suspected proceeds of crime and terrorist property, Cuffy told the lawmakers that the FIU has improved the negative reputation of Liberia with the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), the world’s governing body on AML/CFT activities in Paris, France.

The FIU’s vision is to build a well-equipped unit dedicated to an effective AML/CFT regime and protect Liberia financial system from abuse of financial and economic crime for the enhancement of national, regional and global peace and economic stability.

“We have also recently been able to improve the problems we had with correspondent banking relationship. If you heard, few months ago, Liberia was losing almost all the correspondent banks. And when you don’t have correspondent banks, you can’t transfer money both ways.

“So it came a time where only the multinationals, like Ecobank and United Bank of Africa, were able to transfer money. But through the FIU and other institutions and involvement of government, we were able to calm that down through the implementation of AML/CFT measures,” Cuffy explained.    

He said the FIU is assisting Liberia maintains and upgrades its standing with international bodies, including FATF and Inter-Governmental Action Group against Money Laundering in West Africa (GIABA).

Cuffy said the FIU is improving on its investigation and prosecution of financial crime to assist in increasing revenues for government.

“A country over the number of years that has AML/CFT measures in place and have not had even a case of money laundering or an indictment of money laundering and a guilty plea or guilty verdict and confiscation of property to the state, then you are not doing well.

“We have not achieved one confiscation yet but we are assisting law enforcement to do that. Hopefully this year, we should succeed with three indictments. That’s our target. We are also working with the revenue agency in increasing revenues because there are eyes that we have that they don’t have,” he stressed.   

Challenges of the FIU

One of the major challenges facing the FIU, according to Cuffy, is the limited political will, which was recently hindered by the constitutional change of government.

“All the ministers were changed. So the ministers and everybody, like what we are doing here now, are not aware of these issues because they have to be brought to your attention. So if you don’t know, you don’t act. And if you don’t act, political will is not there. Do you intend to do? Yes, you intend to do but you don’t know how to,” he intoned.   

Cuffy named delays/refusals to provide information & data when requested by law, unavailability of databases, weak information technology infrastructure & equipment and inadequate budgetary support and provision of funds as some of the challenges confronting the FIU.

Beginning June, he said, the FIU intends to carry on massive awareness exercises on AML/CFT initiatives.

The FIU has already 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, 2018 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 GIABA and World Bank.

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