The Nigerian Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act 2002 (MLPA) was enacted at a period when money laundering was synonymous with drug trafficking. Consequently, the law sought basically to prohibit gains obtained from narcotic drugs and other psychotropic substances.
With the advancement in information technology, commercial relations and crimes arising from them, it has become expedient to expand the scope of the law to meet circumstances and transactions not contemplated at the time.
Addressing these issues in their jurisdictions, South Africa enacted the Prevention of Organized Crimes Act (POCA) in 1998; England enacted the Proceeds of Crimes Act (POCA) in 2002; In the USA, the PATRIOT Act was enacted in 2001 all aimed at stemming the menace of organized crime as well as empowering agencies to do so. The lapses of the MLPA were laid bare with the recent conviction of some of the associates of the former governor of Delta State of money laundering charges by the Southwark Crown Court in London. It would be recalled that these same persons together with their other acolytes at large in Nigeria were arraigned in 2008 before the Federal High Court in Delta State but the charges against them were quashed following their counsel’s application that given the ejusdem generis rule of interpretation of the MLPA, the accused persons had not engaged in any financial dealings relating to narcotic drugs or psychotropic substances. However, the recent conviction obtained on similar charges in England is partly attributable to the comprehensiveness of English Law on money laundering.
It is beyond questions that the MLPA needs an overhaul if its original purpose is ever to be met. The language used in the MLPA is unduly restrictive and should be broadened to effectively tackle the multidimensional issues that necessarily arise in proceeds of crime cases. In this regard, the scope should very well go beyond property obtained from dealings in narcotic drugs and the like but should also incorporate kidnapping, human trafficking, blackmail, conspiracy and all money or property derived from crimes or illegal acts.
Furthermore, Nigeria lawmakers could borrow from the English POCA and create specific agencies to enforce the MLPA. In addition, such agency should be empowered to recover and confiscate assets that were acquired with the proceeds of the crime.
It might also be necessary to introduce the concept of “criminal lifestyle” which purport would be to place a burden on anyone convicted of the offenses under the MLPA to show that his properties are not the proceeds of that crime, otherwise, they would be forfeited.
The provision of the Recovery of Public Property (Special Provision) CAP R4 LFN 2004 is commended however because of the weak enforcement framework in Nigeria, most cases that would have been prosecuted under it are allowed to go unnoticed and they never make it to the courts.
Ms. Chinwe Uwakwe
Ms. Uwakwe is an Associate at Blackfriars LLP