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West Africa financial crime cops lack cash to hit terror funding

Senior officers of GIABA, the West African financial police organisation, tell GlobalMarkets how they plan to target terrorist finance despite being handicapped by budget and software constraints

One of the main organisations fighting financial crime on the African continent is focusing on targeting terrorist groups such as Boko Haram, which have gained access to vast amounts of funding.

However the Inter-Governmental Action Group against Money Laundering in West Africa (GIABA) said enforcers often lacked the funds to properly tackle the challenges at hand.

Jeffery Isima, the group’s principal officer of research and planning, said GIABA had achieved much in recent years, but that it still faced obstacles, budgetary and otherwise, to executing its mandate. “We need to do more to follow the money.”

Isima said there had not yet been any cases of terrorism finance money seized in West Africa, including Nigeria, where Boko Haram was prominent — a glaring gap in efforts to fight financial crime in the region.

GIABA was established by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in 2000 to strengthen the capacity of member states to prevent money laundering and terrorist finance in the region.

Since then, significant steps have been taken to improve the response to money laundering in the region. With the support and training provided by GIABA, its member states now all have financial intelligence units (FIUs), which investigate suspicious transactions. 

Despite GIABA’s tireless efforts, Brian Sapati, its deputy director general, said much remained to be done to face such challenges. He says there was still political reticence to action. “Some, but not all countries, are showing good political will.”

He said that the region’s FIUs used outdated technology that delayed their work. “FIUs don’t have state of the art software to pass on information to other countries and law enforcement,” Sapati said. 

He added that a lot of judges still did not consider money laundering charges, instead focusing exclusively on the “predicate” offences of, for example, drug trafficking and corruption.

GIABA’s budget, which comes from ECOWAS and has fallen in recent years, is a concern for Sapati. “If our budget goes down every year, I cannot be happy,” he said. “We want the resources to be able to work. We can’t be pleased with limited resources.”

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