The COVID-19 pandemic has occasioned changes in business operations including the compliance culture with attendant implications on the ability of both public and private sector of ECOWAS member states to implement their AML/CFT obligations.
It is against this background that the Director-General of GIABA Aba Kimelabalou has called for a new direction in tackling Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing.
He said it has become critical that ECOWAS member states Re-strategize, Reprioritize amidst the COVID-19 pandemic to pave way for enhanced strategies in AML/CFT regimes.
The GIABA D-G was addressing the Regional Virtual Meeting of Chief Compliance Officers of Reporting Institutions on Emerging Money Laundering & Terrorist Financing Issues held via Zoom on Wednesday 2nd September in Dakar, Senegal.
The event, which was on the theme: 'Compliance in the Era of Covid-19,' had the primary object to provide a platform for participants to share experiences and foster cooperation and collaboration toward effective implementation of AML/CFT preventive measures in the Era of COVID-19.
To achieve the objectives of the programme, a team of seasoned professionals has been carefully chosen to lead the discussions in these subjects.
He revealed that key findings from GIABA's 2nd round of mutual evaluation reports of assessed member States indicated that reporting institutions are still grappling with several ML/TF compliance challenges.
"Some of these challenges include understanding and mitigating ML/TF risk, effective implementation of customer due diligence and beneficial ownership requirements, and reporting of suspicious transactions which impacted adversely on the assessed countries’ level of performance under Immediate Outcomes (IOs) (Preventive measures), (legal persons and arrangement – particularly beneficial ownership), and (financial intelligence), thus contributing to their placement under the Enhanced Follow Up process. COVID-19 pandemic has added to these challenges by causing severe disruptions to critical sectors of our economies, including the financial system. Criminals are therefore exploiting the emerging vulnerabilities to continue their illicit activities."
He said in particular, criminals and terrorists are exploiting COVID-19 pandemic and the associated economic downturn to move into new cash-intensive and high-liquidity lines of business in developing countries to launder proceeds of crimes as well as to fund their operations.
The GIABA DG noted that GIABA is not immune to the impact of Covid-19. Adding that as an institution, GIABA has adopted strategies to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on its programmes, to ensure that member States effectively implement their AML/CFT obligations.
These include the proactive engagement with member States on the application of their AML/CFT measures and working constructively with them to minimize the potential impact of Covid-19, and the use of the virtual space in programme delivery, including the organization of this workshop.
He also lauded the efforts of the private sector as a strategic and formidable ally in the implementation of effective measures against money laundering and terrorist financing.
"GIABA will continue to engage with the sector through the Forum’s platform and will also continue to provide the required technical support to reporting institutions, especially the non-bank financial institutions, which constitute a weak link in member States’ AML/CFT regime, to accelerate their compliance with international standards on AML/CFT.
...I wish to call on you to take full ownership and actively participate in the programme. It is our expectation that the interactions and exchange of experiences during this workshop will further deepen your knowledge, and enable you to effectively respond to current and emerging threats of money laundering and terrorist financing in our region," Aba Kimelabalou emphasised.