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GIABA hosts seminar for religious leaders on prevention of financial crimes

Participants at the Seminar

Despite progress registered in the implementation of its anti-money laundering laws, Sierra Leone needs to do more in its efforts to counter the phenomenon, government officials and financial experts have said.

The officials said at a seminar on Anti-Money Laundering and Financing of Terrorism (AML/FT) that the country also needs to raise awareness and reinforce its enforcement mechanism to prevent financial crimes and terrorist activities from taking roots.

The Inter-Governmental Action Group Against Money Laundering in West Africa, known by its French acronym GIABA, organized the National Sensitization Seminar for Religious Leaders and Institutions on AML/CFT. The event will last for two days [Tuesday, February 9 to Wednesday, February 10).

GIABA officials said the seminar, which was designed to target religious leaders, is a response to the increasing involvement of religious groups in criminal activities, including terrorism, across the globe. Participants were drawn from the membership of the Interreligious Council of Sierra Leone, comprising scholars from the Islamic and Christian faith, the two dominant religions in the country.

“Today we live in an uncertain time, not because of Covid-19 but the activities [of] extremist organizations [who] embark on senseless destruction of lives and properties in the name of religion,” said David N. Borbor, Director of the Financial Intelligence Unit of Sierra Leone.

Mr Borbor said the complex nature of money laundering and terrorist financing is a manifestation of modern-day criminality, and that the many ways in which they operate in practice make assessing the harm they cause a daunting task.

Borbor went on to say that the seminar, which is being held at the Radisson Blu Mammy Yoko Hotel, was designed to protect faith-based organizations from been used and abused by these fanatic organizations.

“Money Laundering and terrorist financing have adverse effects on the economy,” he stated.

GIABA is an agency of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), mandated to protect the 15-member states of the bloc against money laundering and terrorist financing and their consequences.

Established in 2000, the agency began operation in 2005.  Mr Borbor deliberated on Sierra Leone’s journey in the fight against money laundering and terrorist financing since then, noting that the country has over the years strengthened the Unit to make it more independent through various legislative reforms. He cited the establishment of the anti-corruption court in 2019 as a further boost to Sierra Leone’s standing in the global fight.

“Notwithstanding all the gains made over the years, key and strategic deficiencies remain and require our collective responsibility to ensure that our country complies with acceptable international standards in the fight against the twin scourges,” he stated, citing, in particular, the need to criminalize terrorism as a predicate offence.

Among others, GIABA conducts mutual evaluations of member countries, which is a peer review mechanism designed to assess the level of compliance of a country to the agency’s regimes. The agency also carries out research to identify trends in money laundering and terrorism financing, intending to strengthen preventive measures across the sub-region. Dr Buno Nduka, Director of Evaluation and Compliance at GIABA, who represented the Director-General of the Senegal-based agency, emphasized the importance of the role religious leaders can play in the fight against money laundering and terrorist financing. He explained that the seminar was a springboard for new commitment for all religious leaders to identify these roles. Dr Nduka further noted the Freetown seminar is part of a targeted programme the agency started in 2016.

“What we know as predicate offences, like money laundering, bribery and corruption, kidnapping for ransom…in our part of the world is worrisome,” he said.

 He added: “The voice of our religious leaders must be strongly heard against these crimes. They must also be seen to lead the way through their actions.”

While praising Sierra Leone’s performance in the implementation of GIABA’s mandate, Dr Nduka noted that the country had just completed the second round mutual evaluation at the 34th GIABA Plenary in Dakar, Senegal, in December 2020. He said the outcome revealed that the performance of Sierra Leone places it on track. But he warned that much more needed to be done in terms of building capacity to enforce relevant legislation.

Sierra Leone’s Justice Minister, Anthony Brewer, gave the keynote address and officially declared the seminar opened.

In his statement, he cited several reforms the country had embarked on since it first enacted a law on anti-money laundering, noting that there was still need for more reforms to meet prevailing circumstances imposed by the increasingly globalized world where criminals have evolved in terms of their operations.

“We have made some progress, but we need to do more in the implementation of the laws,” Brewer said, noting that the absence of a law criminalizing terrorist activities is one thing that must be looked at.

Mr Brewer stressed the need for increased public awareness on what constitutes money laundering offence.

“The role of our religious leaders in the fight is very significant since terrorists are using religion to attain their ungodly acts,” he said.

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