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Banks' alleged connivance with money launderers - National Mirror

By The Citizen


The level of criminal exploit dogging the Nigerian system is simply frightening. This is in spite of all official 'efforts' to bring crime under control. Just recently, the banking sector, one of the strategic sectors of the economy and which has always been in the news for the wrong reasons, was accused by the chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mr. Ibrahim Lamorde, of abetting economic crimes, especially money laundering. At a recent meeting of the Committee of Chief Compliance Officers of Banks in Nigeria (CCCOBIN) in Lagos, Lamorde revealed that some banks, apparently driven by sheer greed and the pressure to post huge profits, allow criminals to use their facilities to perpetrate frauds and illicit businesses.

Such banks, according to him, sabotage the efforts of law enforcement agencies and do not cooperate with them during their investigation of suspected bank customers. 'We have had instances where banks sheltered criminal elements and allowed them to use their services to perpetrate their activities…. It may seem profitable in the short term, but in the long term, it would have negative effects', he said. Lamorde also accused some bank officials of tipping off customers whose accounts were on the 'watch-list' because of the material benefits they would obtain from such crooks, an action he described as dangerous to the security of the nation and its citizens. He made reference to a recent case where an account owned by a prominent Nigerian was being investigated, but a bank official leaked the investigation to the customer.

It is of public knowledge that banks, like other commercial institutions, are set up to make profits. In the process, they give premium to the protection of the interest of their customers. This involves some levels of privacy. A bank that gives out information about its customers without restraint is viewed as not being customers-friendly; and such a bank may not be able to survive the stiff competition in the modern-day banking sector. This probably explains why Swiss banks serve as havens for the loot of many corrupt leaders worldwide, Nigeria inclusive. Nonetheless, it is imperative that banks demonstrate sufficient sense of responsibility by not making their facilities available to fraudsters. Banks ought not to be promoting the interest of customers, particularly common criminals, at the expense of the interest of the country and the populace. Such high brow collusion with criminals amounts to economic sabotage that the government should seriously tackle, not just with the word of mouth, like Lamorde has done. We insist on the visitation of the full weight of the law on the erring banks. Proven cases should be punished and the operations of such banks possibly suspended for a while.

A progressive banking culture must centre on how to build the entire economy, not just concentrating on bloated profits and narrow interests. Fraudsters and money launderers have been known not only to ruin the banking sector, but the entire economy of nations. That is why security measures are put in place by the government to assist law enforcement agencies keep watch on the activities of crooks that masquerade as bank customers. Instead of being complicit in such vices, banks should assist law enforcement agents to fish out their customers involved in economic crimes, on the one hand; while protecting the interest of their honest and decent customers, on the other hand.

Perhaps, the EFCC boss did not disclose the names of the banks involved for security reasons. But the dubious financial institutions involved know themselves. They should turn a new leaf. Indeed, no financial crime would record remarkable success without the co-operation and complicity of the banking sector. Banks should begin to play their roles in the economy with a sense of responsibility and patriotism. It does not make any economic sense for them to post enormous profits even when the nation's economy and image are being ruined. Situations where banks consciously choose to play the ostrich when customers suspected of sharp practices are being investigated affront the law. Doing such is a disservice to the nation.