The Chairman of 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.
EFCC Spokesperson, Mr Dele Oyewale in a statement quoted Olukoyede as making the call at a two-day International Law Conference organised by Christopher University, Mowe, Ogun State.
The theme of the conference is “Unexplained Wealth in the Global South: Examining the Asset Recovery and Return Trajectory”.
Olukoyede said 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.
He said the EFCC was still relying 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.
“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 was represented at the conference by the Abuja Zonal Commander, Assistant Commander of the EFCC, ACE1 Adebayo Adeniyi, emphasised that treasury looters would have little cover if the issue of unexplained wealth was tackled more seriously across the world.
“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 legislation on the issue of unexplained wealth, the EFCC continues to rely on provisions of Section 7 of its Establishment Act to handle it,” he said.
Olukoyede said the concerns about unexplained wealth bordered more on asset tracing, investigation and recovery.
“Nations are rapidly settling for non-conviction-based asset forfeiture. The reason for this is simple because 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,” he said.
Explaining further, the EFCC boss stated that, “procedures for asset forfeiture usually involve prosecution of the suspected fraudster, as assets may be forfeited on an interim basis or 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 said.
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 were 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.”
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 is the fact 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. (NAN)