Money laundering: EFCC beams searchlight on real estate investors

THE Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has said it will be beaming its searchlight on those hiding under real estate investments to perpetrate money laundering and other fraudulent acts.

An EFCC lawyer, Chris Mishela, said this during a training session for journalists on effective reporting of economic and financial crimes in Benin, Edo State.

Mishela, during his presentation, said many estates springing up in Abuja, Lagos and other parts of the country were believed to be proceeds of fraud and money laundering.

“In Abuja, you see so many estates coming all over, and we believe the source of this is unlawful funds. The funds are illegally gotten either from the government or from international crime that is used to launder through estate business.

“Real estate is one of the designated and non-designated professions that are also under our obligation under the establishment to do a full disclosure.

“So EFCC is actually working to look into that dimension, and the new Money Laundering Act has provided an opening for the government to look into the aspect of real estate as we saw under the Act.

“It is not an investigation that is going on; rather we have identified specifically that these are proceeds of crime,” Mishela said.

He explained that the training was to keep journalists abreast of the framework of the new Anti-Money Laundering Act 2022 and the role they were expected to play.

He added that the workshop was necessary to inform the public of the expanded scope of the Money Laundering (Prevention and Prohibition) Act 2022 as against the repealed Money Laundering Prohibition Act 2011.

In her presentation on risks and benefits associated with digital payment systems, the Head of the Cyber Crimes Unit in EFCC, Benin, Oluwakemi Olawoyin, charged members of the public to refrain from opening any link they didn’t initiate while on the Internet.

She highlighted tactics for safe transactions on the various e-business platforms and advised the members of the public to beware of unsecured sites.

Also speaking during the training, the Assistant Commander, Public Affairs Unit of EFCC, Dele Oyewale, charged journalists on investigative reporting to provide the Commission with a lead for fraud investigations.

The EFCC had in the past raised concerns over links between real estate and money laundering. In 2014, the Commission raised concerns over the new mode of money laundering through investments in real estate in the FCT.

The then Chairman of the EFCC, Ibrahim Lamorde, said the Commission had uncovered several money laundering schemes in the city where the perpetrators disguised the proceeds of crime by investing in properties without using the banks, preferring to pay for their acquisition with cash.

Lamorde further revealed that the laundered funds are frequently converted into foreign currencies through the Bureau de Change before the purchases are made and that, in most cases, no change of ownership is done after such acquisitions, making it difficult to verify the identities of the new owners or the sources of fund.

Lamorde said over 270 cases of land scams were reported to the Commission during the period , adding that evidence of the trend is the number of palatial but unoccupied houses that litter the capital city.

He added that the Commission suspected involvement of some FCT administration officials in some of the cases investigated.

The ICIR, in a report in 2022, discovered that housing remained a massive challenge for residents of Nigeria’s Federal Capital City, Abuja, where many people battle homelessness.

The city is responsible for at least 10 per cent of the housing deficit in the country, which stands at 17 million, with the likelihood of the figure increasing to 22 million by 2030, according to experts.

The high cost of rent is a factor in the housing deficit in Abuja, which has left many houses in the city unoccupied, with many residents living in slums or, worse, homeless.

Empty houses can be found littering the highbrow areas of the city, priced beyond the reach of average residents, and rotting away in large quantities.

Many residents believe the empty houses are built with fraud proceeds or used as a smokescreen for money laundering.

In 2021, a resident of Abuja, Ayo Balogun, had told The ICIR that abandoned houses sprawling throughout the city served as a smokescreen to launder stolen funds.

“I think these are just projects set up by these politicians or Yahoo boys to launder their money. You can’t just erect a building and leave it empty like that. No returns on your investment and you are not worried,” he said.

Also, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Related Offences Commission (ICPC) in 2022 said it would intensify the probe of completed but unoccupied housing estates across the country in a bid to address Illicit Financial Flows (IFFs).






     

     

    The Commission’s Director of Asset Tracing, Recovery and Management (ATRM), Adedayo Kayode, disclosed this at opening of a two-day capacity-building workshop for investigators, prosecutors and tax inspectors on IFFs. 

    More than 600 houses are unoccupied within Abuja, yet, almost two million residents battle homelessness.

    Money laundering is the process of illegally concealing the origin of money obtained from illicit activities such as drug trafficking, corruption and others.

    The Money Laundering Act 2022 was introduced as part of the intensified efforts towards adopting and implementing the Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF) recommendations on combating the financing of terrorism and money laundering.

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