Thursday, September 12, 2013

West African accountants urge to cooperate with other authorities to tackle money laundering

Dr Abdullahi Shehu, DG of GIABA
Accountants in the West African sub-region should cooperate and collaborate with relevant authorities in their countries to curb the menace of Money Laundering and Terrorism Financing (ML and FT), said the director general of the Inter-Governmental Action Group against Money Laundering in West Africa (GIABA).

Dr Abdullahi Shehu said accountants across the sub-region should cooperate with authorities like the police, lawyers, and other law enforcement agencies in customer identification, and record keeping and reporting of suspicious transactions.  This is cognizance of the fact that the fight against the twin evils of ML/TF required concerted efforts.

Dr Shehu made this statement on Wednesday in Banjul during the beginning of a two-day regional training on Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Financing of Terrorism (AML and CFT) requirements for accountants.   

The training, which is organised by GIABA, is being attended by accountants from English-speaking countries in the sub-region namely Ghana, The Gambia, Nigeria, Liberia and Sierra Leone.  It is meant to enhance the capacity of participants to enable them fulfil their obligations to adopt and implement AML and CFT measures.  Such measures include risk assessment and application of the risk-based approach to AML and CFT implementation.

Dr Shehu noted that if the expertise of accountants is provided to a criminal enable them (the criminals) to legitimatise their illegal funds through money laundering, the process of legitimisation of illegally acquired money in order to hide its true source. 

“It is therefore critical that accountants and accounting professionals are aware of and thus, are required to exercise due diligence and consistently monitor transactions of their clients to ensure accurate and meaningful disclosures of suspicion of illegal activity,” the GIABA DG said.

As financial professionals, accountants cannot afford to be complacent when it to being involved in the laundering or criminal proceeds. 

GIABA DG told the accountants: “You are expected to be on the lookout for possible criminal activities because, even if you are judged to have been unaware of the full nature of a client’s shady business, you will still be subject to legal or professional penalties at the end of the day.”

The Financial Action Task Force (FATF) – the global pacesetter in the fight against money laundering and terrorism - has provide details of the preventative measures to be taken by professionals such as accountants and accounting firms in order to tackle the menace of ML and FT.  As part of such measures, accountants are to adopt and implement robust AML and CFT measures in the area of customer due diligence, record keeping, among others.

In addition, accountants are to put in place robust internal controls and to pay attention to high risk businesses, as well as complex and unusually large transactions in order to safeguard their national economies from abuse by criminals.

Governor Amadou Colley delivering the keynote address
For the governor of Central Bank of The Gambia, Amadou Colley, professionals such as accountants, are obliged to prevent and control money laundering and terrorism financing when they carry out certain specified activities for their clients.

He said such professionals like accountants are considered gatekeepers in ML and TF because they provide the first opportunity for a criminal to complete the process of transforming illicit proceeds of crimes to look legitimate. This could occur through the accountant professional representation of a criminal and assisting them to prepare what may seem to be genuine financial statements.

Accountants should blow the whistle

Mr Margaret I. Unubun, executive secretary of the Association of Accountancy Bodies in West Africa (ABWA), said accountants have multiplicity of roles in national cum regional development.  Therefore they should reaffirm the obligation to assist in the crusade to eliminate money laundering and terrorism financing to make the mission of the perpetrators impossible.

He said in this vein, such capacity building being offered by GIABA for the accountants is highly appreciated as it will assistant the financial professionals in carrying out the duties of preventing, reducing to the barest minimum, money laundering and terrorism financing. 

“Accountants could and should blow the whistle where apt,” he stated.
Though he pointed out that the challenge for the accountants in doing this is how to recognise attempts to subvert economies by money laundering or financing of terrorism and financing small arms proliferation.

However, at the end of the two-training, as the accountants are taken through the various presentations including how to identify and report suspicious transactions, their capacities would be enhanced to enable them to fulfil their obligations to adopt and implement AML and CFT measures, including  risk assessment and application of the risk-based approach to AML and CFT implementation.


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