Friday, July 25, 2008

Britain and Money Laundering

By its new law making it mandatory for British banks to report to the police any lodgement by public officers in excess of 10,000 pounds, the British government may be demonstrating a new willingness to help in the effort to stamp out looting of public funds so common in developing countries.
The new law points to departure from the past attitude of rich industrialised countries towards the growing incidence of money looting and its devastating effect on developing countries. Until the tragic events of September 11, 2001 when terrorists massively attacked the United States, the problem of money laundering didn't quite figure in the policy agenda of most developed countries. Apparently because this was particularly injurious to the economies of developing countries, most industrialised nations did not pay enough attention to the problem. As a result, money looting and laundering which are manifestations of political corruption in many African counties, thrived on a large scale. In a few instances, serving African heads of state were known to have lasted their nations' treasury and stashed the proceeds in foreign bank accounts domiciled in Europe and America. That way, some of them turned out to be richer than their countrys in terms of cash reserves. It was such an absurd situation. Yet few western countries were prepared to listen to cries by African people for the repatriation of such wealth and the disclosure of their owners. But that was until quite recently.
We agree with those who say that September 11, has proved decisively the inter-connectedness of nations and the need for greater levels of co-operation in solving common problems affecting them. One of such problems is that of money laundering which has become an effective conduit for illicit wealth makers. In Africa alone, billions of dollars are annually siphoned from national coffers into dormant foreign-based bank account. Nigeria's recent experience is a case in point. Several of our state governors are being fingered for running foreign bank accounts through which they launder tax payers' money. The Alamieyeseigha saga is a classic example. Also during the Abacha regime, billions of dollars were stashed in European banks by senior government officials. Efforts to have all that loot returned to the nation have not been a complete success because of the reluctant attitude of some of the countries in which the loot are domiciled.
Against this background, the new British law ought to gladden the hearts of all those genuinely interested in curbing the incidence of money looting and laundering. The law is expected to make life more difficult for those involved in the refarious trade if it is well enforced by the British authorities.
By the new law, the British government may have acknowledged that the activities of money launderers can do collateral damage to both the developing and developed nations.
The truth is that there would be no looters if there is no haven to store such loot. Treasury looters have thrived largely because they had a safe destination for their loot. It is an argument that African civil society groups had long put up to no avail. Unless the developed nations co-operated with their developing counterparts on this matter, the illicit business will continue to boom, to the further impoverishment of the latter.
The British government has, by its new law, shown what is possible. It deserves commendation. Yet the greater challenge lies in the eager enforcement of this law and the willingness on its part to repatriate what is looted.
The Tony Blair administration has shown an admirable sensitivity to the economic problems of the developing world. This new law is a further demonstration of that. We urge him to however, go beyond that by equally making a definite commitment toward the repatriation of all funds looted from developing countries.
We believe that most European and American countries have all the information they need on who and who are running what account. They should take a cue from Britain by no only enacting new laws against money laundering and looting, but also demonstrated a willingness to repatriate such funds. This, will go a long way in making poverty history or at least curbing it extensively.
The world certainly does not need another September 11, to rise to the challenge of putting money looters and launderers out of business. But doing so will need the co-operation of the rich nations where most of the looted funds are deposited.