The Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, (EFCC), Mr. Abdulrasheed Bawa, yesterday said the Commission was determined to combat money laundering and terrorism financing in the real estate sector of the economy.
He spoke in Abuja, at a workshop organised by the Inter-Governmental Action Group against Money Laundering in West Africa (GIABA).
He said the Nigeria Evaluation Report showed that the real estate sector was the second most vulnerable sector to money laundering practices in Nigeria.
The EFCC boss listed Abuja, Port Harcourt, Kano, Lagos as some of the major cities where properties were regularly purchased mostly in cash and often in foreign currencies with no questions asked by anybody about the legality of such transactions.
Bawa, who spoke through his Chief of Staff, Hadiza Gamawa Zubairu, stated that based on the existing realities of the real estate sector, the EFCC, “would leave no stone unturned in combating money laundering practices in the 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,” he said.
He restated the readiness of the EFCC to collaborate with relevant stakeholders in its efforts towards 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 were weak regulations, lack of strict parameters for business practices by the regulatory bodies, poor compliance to laws, among others.
Also, the Director of the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) Mr. 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, Secretary, Real Estate Developers Association of Nigeria, REDAN, Mr. 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 achieve this feat and this is why we decided to sponsor a bill at the National Assembly”, he said.
Director of Evaluation and Compliance, GIABA, Dr. Bruno Nduka, thanked the EFCC chairman for taking keen interest in the activities of GIABA and providing tremendous support to the association.
A statement by the commission said the GIABA official maintained that the real estate sector remained one of the main drivers of economic growth and engine of social development across GIABA member states.
The federal government has called on all West African countries to put in place a register of beneficial owners of Real Estate properties in their respective countries so as to prevent the use of the sector as conduit for money laundering and terrorism financing.