A global platform has warned governments against using financial crime investigations to silence their political opponents at home or nonprofit groups with local branches.
Financial intelligence units tend to operate behind the scenes as liaisons between their nations’ law enforcement agencies and financial institutions, and the Egmont Group, which now counts 166 FIUs as members, is equally private. On March 3, however, the Ottawa-based platform issued a rare public warning on the potential abuse of financial intelligence.
“The Egmont Group has been informed of [FIUs] allegedly misusing the powers conferred to them,” Hennie Verbeek-Kusters, the group’s chair, said in a statement. “These deeply concerning allegations pertain to FIUs limiting or coercing civil society actors for their work and critiques of current governments in their jurisdictions.”
The group, which exists primarily to facilitate discussion and cross-border exchanges of financial intelligence, attaches great importance to the “operational autonomy and independence” of FIUs from their respective governments, Verbeek-Kusters said.
“Any abuse of FIU powers compromises trust and is detrimental to the credibility of our global network,” she said. “The misuse of FIU powers against government opponents can indicate undue influence and interference in FIU operations.”
Facing such an issue, Egmont can send observers to the nation in question and interview local authorities, and, if doubts persist, block the country’s FIU from requesting and receiving financial intelligence from other members.
This is what happened to Nigeria, which was suspended from the platform from July 2017 to September 2018 over concerns regarding the protection of confidential information and a perceived lack of independence.
“Although it is recognized that the political realm will have a role in setting strategic direction and budgetary priorities for government entities, this should not extend to involvement regarding how the FIU chooses to conduct its operations including: what cases should be analyzed, disseminated or closed; how it is organized; how resources are deployed; and what staff are recruited,” the group said that year.
Egmont’s latest statement does not identify any one country by name, but examples of financial crime investigations bearing a potential political dimension are numerous.
Upon returning to Moscow in January 2021 after surviving a poisoning attempt, political opponent and Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny was immediately arrested and charged with embezzling 588 million roubles, a sum that equates to roughly €6.8 million, in public donations to FBK, the anti-corruption group he chairs.
Russia’s earlier cases against Navalny, including a 2014 decision to keep him under house arrest, had already brought the country censure from the European Court of Human Rights, which described the proceedings as arbitrary and politically motivated.
Separately, a vast anti-corruption campaign in Algeria has led to convictions of former prime ministers and other high-ranking officials, but critics have cast the initiative as little more than a power struggle between ruling clans.
The latest casualty of the campaign arrived March 3, the same day of Egmont’s statement, when authorities detained Justice Minister Reckya Madougou on suspicion of financing terrorism. Madougou’s arrest came weeks before the presidential election in which she intended to run as the Saharan nation’s first female candidate.
Financial intelligence has also allegedly been used to target the nongovernmental sector, which, rightly or wrongly, has long been viewed as vulnerable to illicit finance.
But accusations of financial crime can often take a political turn, as they have in India, where several NGOs, including Amnesty International, have described a series of investigations and police raids as attempts to silence them. Amnesty halted operations in the country in September 2020 after the government ordered the group’s assets frozen.
Two months earlier, Amnesty called on Serbia’s Administration for the Prevention of Money Laundering to cease its “intimidating” investigation into 57 NGOs and individuals, including journalists writing about corruption.
European officials asked Serbia to explain its reasons for opening the cases.
In this context, Egmont’s latest warning is significant, said Tom Keatinge, director of the Center for Financial Crime and Security Studies at the Royal United Services Institute in London. “The group has called out FIUs—like Nigeria’s—before, but making such a blanket statement is not a decision to be taken lightly.”
A spokesperson for Egmont declined to provide more details on the group’s March 3 statement.
“The Egmont Group will not be commenting on specific member affairs and will not single out any particular FIUs in communications,” the spokesperson said.
Contact Gabriel Vedrenne at email@example.com
|Topics :||Anti-money laundering , Counterterrorist Financing , Corruption/Bribery|
|Document Date:||March 9, 2021|