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Nigeria’s Expulsion Never Featured In Egmont Group’s Meeting Of March

Expulsion of the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) from the Egmont Group was never on the agenda of the group’s last meeting in March, the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) has learnt.

This is contrary to media reports prior to the meeting held in Argentina between March 12 and 15 that the NFIU would be expelled over governance issues, including lack of operational autonomy.

A reliable source told NAN that what came up for discussion concerning the NFIU on March 13 was the adoption of a letter addressed to the unit by the head of the Egmont Group.

In the letter, which followed the NFIU’s suspension from the global financial intelligence sharing body in July, 2017, Egmont demanded three remedial actions from Nigeria for the suspension to be lifted.

The first two demands border on provision of a legal framework to guarantee the operational autonomy of the unit, and protection of intelligence received by it through the group’s intelligence sharing web portal.

The third demand requests Nigeria to submit its status report on actions taken on the first two at the group’s next meeting on June 1.

The source said, “Egmont Group never said they were going to expel the NFIU in January or March this year as falsely reported in the local media; it was never an issue.

“They only said that if Nigeria did not address their concerns, the country risked expulsion. You can see the confusion.

“Where they got their information that Nigeria was going to be expelled in January or March, I don’t know.”

NAN reports that a communiqué issued at the end of the meeting on March 15 is silent on the fate of the NFIU, lending more credence to the source.

As at the time of filing this report, Nigeria remained suspended on the group’s membership web page.

The source, who asked not to be named, decried the negative impact of the “media hype’’ on the country’s image abroad, especially among foreign direct investors.

A section of the media had reported that Nigeria’s expulsion from the group would come with grave consequences for the country, including being blacklisted in international finance.

This, according to them, could affect the use of MasterCard and Visa credit and debit cards issued by Nigerian banks.

The source noted, “Some members of the international community monitoring the development are already saying, ‘look, what is wrong with your country?’

“`Are you not looking at the negative impacts that all these stories are going to have on foreign direct investments in Nigeria?’

“A potential foreign investor, who hears the stories may not make effort to verify the authenticity of those claims before saying ‘Oh, Nigeria is a no-go area’, and then we have lost that investment’’, the source added.

He said other countries, including Saudi Arabia, Italy and El Salvador, also had issues in their Financial Intelligence Units (FIUs) that were even worse than Nigeria’s, but hardly talked about in their media.

“On March 13, there were seven countries, including Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Italy and El Salvador, that came up for discussion.

“The issue Italy had was that they did some major changes in their FIU, so the Egmont Group had a report to consider in respect of Italy.

“You can hardly hear about all those other countries, but why do we project our own as if it is the worst?’’  the source asked.

When contacted for comment, the Director of the NFIU, Mr Francis Usani, declined to speak on the matter, saying it was against Egmont’s principles for him to do so.

The Egmont Group is an international body made up of 155 Financial Intelligence Units (FIUs) representing its member countries, including the United States and Britain.

It is a platform for the secure exchange of expertise and financial intelligence among the member countries to combat money laundering and terrorist financing.

Nigeria is represented in the group by the NFIU, which is currently domiciled in the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

Nigeria is represented in the group by the NFIU, which is currently domiciled in the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

One of the Egmont Group’s protocols requires member countries to make their FIUs independent in funding, operations and management of intelligence.

The body suspended Nigeria in July, 2017, over lack of a legal framework guaranteeing the NFIU’s autonomy, and alleged interference by the EFCC in its operations.

The group also accused the NFIU of failing to protect “confidential information, specifically related to the status of suspicious transaction report (STR) details and information derived from international exchanges”.

The EFCC has denied the allegations on interference and information leakage, insisting that the NFIU has always operated independently in line with the group’s regulations.

On March 5, the National Assembly passed a bill granting the NFIU “full autonomy’’ and relocating it from the EFCC to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN).

The bill is awaiting presidential assent. (NAN)

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