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25 March 2013
So far in 2013 there have been mixed signals about Nigeria's ability and willingness to address the issue of corruption – a subject which most Nigerians consider to be the most serious white collar criminal activity occurring in the country.
Public outcry in response to the lenient punishment handed down to an individual accused of embezzling $200 million from the police pension fund resulted in the commencement of a fresh prosecution against him in respect of other offences that were uncovered during the investigation.
The National Judicial Council subsequently recommended that the judge who had handed down the sentence be dismissed. Simultaneously, another judge with an unscrupulous reputation was also dismissed.
Most recently, the Bar Association appears to have woken from its slumber and reacted to anti-money laundering provisions that have long been on the statute books, announcing a challenge to the validity of reporting regulations imposed on lawyers.
In April 2012 four senior civil servants were charged with embezzling from the police pension fund. In January 2013 one of the four decided to plead guilty and saw the charges filed against him reduced from carrying a 14-year term of imprisonment to a maximum of two years. This change of plea occurred apparently in exchange for surrendering assets and making restitution of what he had allegedly stolen. He was duly convicted and sentenced to two years in prison, with the option of a fine of $1,500 for each of the three charges. He duly paid the fine and was released. The public outrage that followed resulted in his being re-arrested and charged with failing to declare all his assets to the investigating authority.
The judge who had handed down the sentence himself became a victim of the public outcry as he was dismissed in March 2013. His dismissal, along with that of another judge with a reputation for impropriety, seems to confirm that the chief justice (appointed in July 2012) was serious when she indicated her determination to rid the judiciary of incompetent and corrupt judges. The case of the other dismissed judge, who had long been reputed as being one of the most unscrupulous judges in the Nigerian judiciary, was also significant. There had been many complaints about him in recent years, but no action had been taken by the Judicial Council, other than his recent transfer from Lagos State to Bayelsa State in the Niger Delta region.
In March 2013 the Bar Association resolved to challenge the validity of certain provisions of Nigeria's anti-money laundering law, insofar as it requires lawyers to register with a government agency and report on transactions with clients. The Financial Action Task Force (on Money Laundering)-inspired law includes lawyers in a list of 'designated non-financial institutions', and has been on the statute books since 2004 without attracting the attention of the legal profession. In 2011 the law was amended, but the provisions that lawyers find unpalatable remained unchanged.
The Bar Association's delayed decision to act came about as a result of the Nigerian Central Bank's interest in ensuring compliance through regulations issued to banks in August 2012. These new regulations state that all Nigerian banks must obtain evidence from lawyers (and other 'designated non-financial businesses and professions') registered with the Special Control Unit against Money Laundering. Failure to register and provide evidence of registration would result in the withdrawal of banking services – clearly a step too far for the legal profession.
An action is expected to be commenced before the expiration of the extended deadline for registration (April 1 2013). Indications are that the action will rely heavily on the September 2011 decision of the British Columbia Supreme Court in Federation of Law Societies of Canada v Canada (Attorney General),(1) which, as a Commonwealth jurisdiction decision, is persuasive in Nigeria.
For further information on this topic please contact Babajide Oladipo Ogundipe at Sofunde Osakwe Ogundipe & Belgore by telephone (+234 1 462 2502), fax (+234 1 462 2501) or email (firstname.lastname@example.org).
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