The chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Abdulrasheed Bawa, on Monday, reiterated the agency’s commitment towards combating money laundering and terrorism financing in the real estate sector of the economy.
Mr Bawa said this in Abuja at a workshop organised by the Inter-Governmental Action Group against Money Laundering in West Africa (GIABA), the commission’s spokesperson, Wilson Uwujaren, said.
According to him, a Nigeria Evaluation Report reveals that Nigeria’s real estate sector is the second most vulnerable to money laundering.
The report, Mr Bawa said, placed Abuja, Port Harcourt, Kano, and Lagos, among the major cities where property is regularly purchased, mostly in cash and often in foreign currencies.
He said no one has been questioning the legality of such transactions.
The EFCC chairman, in June last year, said the commission would be going all out to investigate money laundering in the real estate sector.
He said billions of naira were being laundered in the sector.
A 2020 report by the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), a Transparency International (TI) affiliate, cities such as Abuja, Lagos, and Port Harcourt are Nigeria’s major black spots for high-level capital flights, with media and court reports pointing to the involvement of criminals running fraud syndicates, drug trafficking, and property buying and development.
The report explained that money launderers and criminals used third parties, professionals, family members, and close acquaintances to obtain high-value real estate.
It added that the buyers commonly opened accounts using pseudonyms to transfer illegal monies into high-value real estate purchases.
At Monday’s event, Mr Bawa, who spoke through his Chief of Staff, Hadiza Zubairu, said EFCC would leave no stone unturned in combating money laundering practices in the real estate sector.
“Just last year in July, the EFCC launched an App called ‘The Eagle Eye’ which has eased the processes of reporting economic and financial crimes and also exposed the flow of illicit funds in the real estate sector. This indeed has provided useful intelligence and goes to show the level of commitment that EFCC has in the real estate sector,” she said.
She restated the readiness of the EFCC to collaborate with relevant stakeholders in its efforts toward combating the menace, while also strengthening the capacity of the Special Control Unit against Money Laundering (SCUML) to effectively discharge its responsibilities in enforcing compliance in the real estate sector.
The EFCC boss added that loopholes being exploited to launder funds in the real sector are weak regulations, lack of strict parameters for business practices by the regulatory bodies, and poor compliance with laws, among others.
Also, the Director of the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU), Modibbo Tukur, called for collaboration and coordination among agencies, locally and regionally, in combating money laundering and illicit financial flows.
He proposed stronger legislative regulations, including the need for every citizen in GIABA member states to be linked to a unified identification number, in order to make it easier to track culprits.
In his own submissions, the secretary, Real Estate Developers Association of Nigeria (REDAN), Yunusa Shuaibu, called for stricter regulation and coordination in the real sector, stressing that “the sector is currently free for all”.
We are ready to cooperate at all times to an of achieving this feat and this is why we decided to sponsor a bill at the National Assembly,” he said.
Director of Evaluation and Compliance, GIABA, Bruno Nduka, thanked Mr Bawa for taking interest in the activities of GIABA and supporting the body.
He said the real estate sector is one of the main drivers of economic growth and the engine of social development across GIABA- member states.