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Anti-Corruption War: Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit Reconnects To The Egmont Group

Following the dismissal of reports that armed policemen in Nigeria had forcefully gained access to Nigeria’s Financial Intelligence Unit with the aim of destroying vital information, officials have finally reconnected the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to the Group’s Secure Web System (ESW).

The EWS has a unique ability that allows members to exchange financial information that may be helpful in following the financial trail in law enforcement investigations, including those related to terrorism and uncovering criminal assets. The NFIU is currently domiciled in the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

The Egmont Group of Financial Intelligence Units, is an international forum for financial intelligence units around the world, with the aim to enhance support to their respective governments in the fight against money laundering, financing of terrorism and other financial crimes.

According to the background to the fact finding report prepared by the Egmont mission to Nigeria, a section of the “Nigerian press alleged that in late November 2013, armed policemen had prevented the then Acting Director, Juliet Ibekaku, of the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit, the NFIU, from entering her office and had tried to intimidate NFIU personnel.

The press also claimed that the armed policemen attempted to forcibly access and destroy information within the NFIU of important cases of corruption and terrorism.

Ms. Ibekaku reportedly informed the Egmont Group Secretariat that she was no longer able to enter the NFIU, or to guarantee the security of information at the NFIU, which would include the Egmont Secure Web.

Subsequent statements made by the new Acting Director, Mr. Francis Usani, of the NFIU contradicted the press report about an occupation of the NFIU by armed police. Concerns also arose about the legal mandate of the NFIU, and the NFIU's ability to protect the confidentiality of information, including the unit's operational independence vis-a-vis the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), in which the NFIU is domiciled”.

In a statement, an Egmont official offered SaharaReporters the following observation: “After initial receipt of information from different sources by the Egmont Secretariat of the developments involving the NFIU, the Chair of the Egmont Group, in consultation with the Egmont Committee (EC), exercised his emergency powers pursuant to the Charter to order the disconnection of the NFIU from the ESW to prevent a security threat to the Egmont Group.

“To date, the NFIU's suspension from the ESW remains in place. On behalf of the EC, the ESW Representative and a Vice Chair of the EC (Ms. Bess Michael, FinCEN-USA) and a Regional Representative for Europe (Mr. Jean-Baptiste Carpentier, Director of TRACFIN - France) traveled to Nigeria to conduct a fact-finding mission on February 2-4, 2014.

“The focus of the mission was to determine whether police had occupied the NFIU, and if the police had inappropriate access to NFIU information, in particular 3rd party information from Egmont Group FlUs. The mission also sought, based on information received, including review of an International Monetary Fund's technical assistance report that was shared by Nigerian government officials, to establish whether the NFIU has the legal mandate and the operational independence as required by the Egmont Group. The delegation met with Nigerian officials from the NFIU, EFCC and other law enforcement agencies, and Nigerian legislator.”

A key question from many familiar with the issue at hand is simply, “Was the NFIU occupied by police in November 2013?” Press reports that claimed armed police had seized the NFIU in late November 2013, and attempted to access or destroy NFIU information were unsubstantiated. On the day in question (Wednesday, November 20, 2013), the police entered the NFIU to ensure an orderly transition of FIU directors, but the police had no access to NFIU information including the ESW. Following the onsite visit and several weeks after being transferred from the NFIU, the EFCC dismissed Ms. Ibekaku, the report indicated. 

At press time, many questions remained unanswered in a case that raises eyebrows among those inside the financial intelligence circles globally.