Exploring anti-money laundering laws through a case study [Article]

The zeal to combat the menace of money Laundering has informed many jurisdictions to enact various laws towards its eradication. Ghana is no exception as the state in 2007 enacted the Anti-Money Laundering Act 2007 (Act 749) and Anti-Money Laundering Amendment Act 2015(Act 874) . For the purpose of enforcement, the Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC) was created.

The core objects of the centre are to assist in the identification of proceeds of unlawful activity and the combat of money laundering activities, make information available to investigating agencies and exchange information with similar bodies in other countries as regard money laundering activities and similar offences. The centre is headed by a Chief Executive Officer in the person of Samuel Thompson Essel (a.k.a. S.T. Essel). Mr Essel for many years worked with BNI and later assigned to Bank of Ghana

In the light of the objects of the Financial Intelligence Centre the Chief Executive Officer is expected to be candid and impartial in the performance of his duties. The reason for this is quite obvious as the Centre has the power to freeze a person’s account for up to a year. It goes to reason that this power ought not be abused or used arbitrarily.

As stated above this article seeks to do an exposé on various instances where accounts have been frozen by the Financial Intelligence Centre pending investigations. It should be noted that the Financial Intelligence Centre has no investigative powers therefore all intelligence gathered ought to be disseminated to the various investigative agencies for thorough investigation.

By the provisions of the Anti- Money Laundering Act, the banks are mandated to report any suspicious transaction to the centre. This the bank does by filing a suspicious transaction report (STR) with the centre. This kick starts the intelligence gathering function of the centre.

In the case of Financial Intelligence Centre vrs East West Overseas Trade International Limited and Vishnu Invest Corporation Limited Suit No FTRM/144/14 , the bankers of these two companies reported a suspicious transaction to the Financial Intelligence Centre. These two companies were allegedly originally incorporated in Dubai. The Centre was called upon to gather information on the following funds that were remitted into the accounts of the 2 companies at the time when the account opening processes were not even completed.

East West Overseas Trade international received 7,579,940.00 Euro and 6,144,988.00 Pounds into its Euro and Pound accounts respectively.

Vishnu Invest Corporation also received 9,174,976.00 pounds and 7,239,940.00 Euro into its pounds and Euro account respectively.

With these huge sums of inflows into the Country which has been reported suspicious, it was expected that investigations into this gargantuan inflows would be thorough and exhaustive. Interestingly, barely after a month of freezing these huge funds, the Centre applied to Court to have the account defrozen and the funds released to the two companies. Suffice it to say that the Centre was expeditious in its intelligence gathering. A check by the author of this article revealed that no company in the name of Vishnu Invest Corporation Limited existed in Dubai to begin with let alone a mandate to grant loans and provide financial investment instrument to business entities.

At the time the said funds were transferred into the accounts of these two companies, no permit or licence had been issued to them by the Registrar General to operate. The two companies had the same signatories to their accounts as well as the same company profile, address and telephone numbers. This scenario was extremely suspicious to say the least and same should have been subjected to a thorough investigation by the investigative agencies. The Centre after gathering the supposed information went to Court Ex parte to have the accounts defrozen stating that the funds were not laundered. The owners of the accounts were conspicuously absent in Court. If the Centre can be this quick and expeditious in its duties, what therefore explains the undue delay when it comes to abysmal funds in the sum 15,000 Usd dollar or 20,000 Usd. It seems that the Centre loses its speed and alacrity when it comes to small funds belonging to citizens of Ghana. One example will be the case of ISHMAEL HOLM VRS FINANCIAL INTELLIGENCE CENTRE SUIT NO FTRM/138/14 an amount of 27,000 Pounds was remitted into the account of the Applicant on 23rd January,2014. In a strange turn of events, the Financial Intelligence Centre was not enthused when the said Holm applied to have his account defrozen after same had been frozen for over 10 months arguing that investigations into the 27,000 pounds were still on-going.

It seems strange that the Centre in barely a month can mobilize itself to perform its duty involving these huge remittances but opt to drag and cause undue hardships on Citizens of Ghana in matters involving such meagre amounts. Maybe it is the Centre’s way of letting citizens of Ghana know that it is working but will go out of its way to ensure that funds are released when the funds are extremely huge.

As I have stated earlier, the Centre has no investigative powers. In Court, the Centre emphatically deposed that after investigations it was revealed that the funds were not for onward repatriation of laundered money. However the Centre was silent on the investigative agency that performed this investigation in such a short time. One cannot tell whether it’s the Police, the Economic and Organised Crime Office (EOCO), the Bureau of National Investigations (BNI) or National Security. Better still since the funds were defrozen in 2014, it will be worth our while if we can locate the supposed recycling of waste and ethanol plant in Tamale the purpose for which the funds were remitted.

What informed the speedy intelligence gathering in a matter involving amounts in excess of 14 million Euros and 15 million pounds is anybody’s guess but what can be gleamed from these 2 matters is that it appears the centre through its Chief Executive Officer is selective and discriminatory in implementing the anti-money laundering laws. The case involving the 27,000 pounds is not the only instance where the centre has done its duty in a languid manner. In this wise, the Centre conveniently has an amnesia that the right to own property is enshrined and guaranteed under the 1992 Constitution, therefore, the power to interrupt this right should be exercised in accordance with the dictates of Article 296 of the Constitution.
The Centre is an intelligence gathering agency but as far as it is a creation of statute, the general public is entitled to scrutinize its activities. The Centre is not above the law. Its mandates are subsumed under the 1992 Constitution thus, the Chief Executive Officer cannot be selective and discriminatory in the performance of his duties. In the case of the two companies, the subject matter of this article, the actions of the Centre through its Chief Executive Officer gives the impression of underhand dealing between these two company and the centre.

If the Centre through Mr S.T. Essel in a month can gather intelligence on funds in the total sum of 14,819,880.00 euro and 15,319,964.00 pounds and transmit same to an investigative agency for investigations to be carried out ( all this within a month), then where the amount involved is USD 20,000, information gathering and investigation should take less than a week.

It is the hope of the author that the Centre in the performance of its duties would be candid and fair to all and sundry and not be selective where huge funds are concerned and rather cause undue hardship on persons who have received paltry remittance into their account.

This is a call on all investigative agencies to investigate the activities of Mr S.T. Essel in the performance of his duties as the Chief Executive Officer of the Financial Intelligence particularly the case of East West Overseas Trade International and Vishnu Invest Corporation as the transaction as a whole stinks and suggestive of underhand dealings and same ought to be investigated thoroughly. At least I can state on authority that upon my checks all the depositions the bases for the release of the huge funds in question are false.

It is incumbent on all state agencies with freezing powers to be circumspect in the performance of their duties having in mind that the Rights to own property is guaranteed and enshrined in the 1992 Constitution.

Richard Paa Kwesi Korsah

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