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Tending the economy during COVID-19

By Bayo Ogunmupe
21 October 2020   |   3:00 am
The Great Reset of the World Economy will stamp out organised financial crime. The World Economic Forum teaches how to achieve a clean economic recovery that combats organised crime.

The Great Reset of the World Economy will stamp out organised financial crime. The World Economic Forum teaches how to achieve a clean economic recovery that combats organised crime.

Sadly, criminals have adapted to thrive in the economic environment created by the pandemic, exploiting the crisis to weave themselves into the legitimate economy.

In the event of prosecution, only 2 per cent of criminal assets are recovered. Obstacles to recovering criminal assets need to be removed so that ill-gotten gains can be repurposed for the good of society. A starting point would be to improve public-private sharing of financial information to fight financial crime across borders.

This quick criminal adaptation undermines economic recovery and will weaken public institutions. Given that money laundering is the engine of organised crime, if access to money laundering services was removed, criminals would not be able to make use of their profits. This offers a good lever to stamp out organised crime. The recommendations from the World Economic Forum- supported coalition offer national economies on how to tackle organised financial crime.
The European Union (EU) has launched an Action Plan for a comprehensive policy on preventing money laundering and terrorism financing, to address the issue. The plan can support an economic recovery that works for citizens across the globe, rather than lining the pockets of international criminals. The timing of this Action Plan is the recognition that financial crime is pervasive and weaving its way into a larger number of economic sectors. At the start of the pandemic, European Police demonstrated in the ‘Catching the virus: cybercrime, disinformation and the COVID-19 pandemic’ that cybercriminals were using the pandemic to target communities.

Recent reports from the Interpol show this trend is global. Analogue criminals are ruthlessly exploiting new industry needs created by the pandemic with devastating effects on the wellbeing of societies and individual citizens. Thus, the fallout from the pandemic is the weakening of economies, and the creation of new vulnerabilities from which crime can emerge. Economic and financial crime, such as various types of fraud, money laundering, intellectual property crime and currency counterfeiting, is particularly threatening during this time of economic crisis. Unfortunately, this is also when they become most prevalent.
These economic downturns create opportunities for crime. While a recession entails hardship for the legitimate economy, criminals are well placed to exploit the desperation of others. Lack of accessible loans and capital puts companies under financial pressure and can leave them vulnerable to infiltration or takeovers by criminals. In times of crisis, personal and public finances must be protected. The proceeds of bribery, corruption, fraud, narcotics trafficking and other organised crimes have all been implicated in the financing of terrorism, human rights abuses such as slavery and child labour and environmental crimes such as wildlife trafficking, that have potential to trigger another pandemic.
This has serious economic and social costs in terms of lost revenues to national exchequers that could be invested in social development and in terms of the impact on individual lives. While many governments are responding to these threats, we are not aware of any actions or policies being put forward by the Federal Government of Nigeria in spite of the invasion of the country by Boko Haram guerrillas and bandits. For the EU, the Police have created the Financial and Economic Crime Centre to enhance Europol’s operational support to EU member states, forging alliances with public and private entities for tracing, seizing and confiscating criminal assets in the EU and beyond. The economic crime centre also relies on initiatives from Europol Financial Intelligence Public-Private Partnerships.

The latest Future of Financial Intelligence Sharing research paper charts the global growth of public-private partnerships to fight financial crime. In recent times, there has been a phenomenal growth of such partnerships throughout the world. Public-Private partnerships between law enforcement, regulated financial institutions, data providers and civil society organisations help identify criminal assets. They accelerate the speed of asset seizure, preventing criminal funds from infiltrating the legal economy and damaging society. Since criminals can operate internationally with ease, Nigeria has to sign law enforcement protocols with police forces of her neighbouring states to stop illicit flows of money being used to destabilise her.
We know that cross-border partnerships of police forces, financial intelligence units and government agencies can thwart criminals. Europol’s Financial Intelligence partnership is a leading example of this. Cross border partnerships need to be sourced, Nigeria should take steps to improve the effectiveness of cross border information sharing including the use of privacy-preserving analysis if she will ever overcome banditry and Boko Haram insurgency ravaging the country. It is the proceeds of oil theft and illegal mineral resources mining that is being used to finance insurgency in Nigeria.
Information sharing holds the key to combating terrorism. Its value is beyond data. It fosters better discussions and understanding of risks by all involved and results in a really proactive and joint work on cases that protect citizens. Information sharing also enables you to recognize the complexity of combating financial crime. The pandemic has opened the door to new crimes. The digitization of retail banking, for example, has created new vectors for fraud. Also, the implication is that money laundering can trigger the winding-up of a bank under the Bank Recovery and Resolution Directive, allowing criminals to buy out a bank. Finally, financial crime knows no borders, therefore, Nigeria should protect herself by signing information-sharing protocols with her neighbors.

Ogunmupe wrote from Lagos.

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