THE Financial Intelligence Centre says its attackers are emboldening criminals to now believe that Zambia is a safe haven to work under.
Meanwhile, Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC) acting board chairman John Kasanga says while President Edgar Lungu and his ministers may have problems with the Centre for its imperfections, it is important to protect it.
On arrival at the Zambia Air Force (ZAF) airbase in Lusaka from Ndola on Wednesday evening, June 5, President Lungu was asked about the latest FIC report which details suspected money laundering, corruption and bribery involving K6.1 billion but he dismissed it as speculation because no minister was named.
Some ministers have and also PF functionaries have denounced the 2018 FIC trends report – others saying it was only alarming the public with its raw intelligence data while others are calling for the amendment of the FIC Act.
Kasanga says those criticising FIC should say, without being equivocal, if they are for the FIC or they are for criminals.
He made the remarks on Prime TV’s Oxygen of Democracy programme on Monday night.
“If there was no reaction to the report, we would be disappointed. It is topical [and] it has generated different reactions. But that means we have taken centre stage! The trends report, as it should be, is a public document,” Kasanga said.
He explained that the FIC was recognised as the sole designated national agency authorised to receive, request, analyse and evaluate suspicious transactions reports and information from any other source authorised under any written law.
Kasanga stressed that the FIC existed to analyse suspicious financial transactions.
“The FIC receives suspicious financial transactions from many sources and some of our sources are actually bound by law to transmit suspicious financial reports to the FIC,” he noted.
“So, once those suspicious financial transaction reports are received, the role of the FIC is to analyse and determine whether sufficient grounds exist for the particular suspicion to go for a fully-fledged investigation by law enforcement agencies.”
Asked if there was any truth in the telling revelations of the FIC, Kasanga replied that: “well, I would like someone to tell me what’s not true in the trends report! There may be divided opinion….”
He then gave an example of a suspicious transaction.
“You (interviewer, Alexander Musokotwane) suddenly owning 20 houses tomorrow, from walking, you have a car, you have 20 houses, isn’t that suspicious? It is suspicious! Not all suspicious transactions have a criminal intent…” he said.
On those who alleged that revelations in the FIC trends report were based on guess work, Kasanga assured the public that the Centre was staffed by: “amazing people.”
“Let me give you an example [of] the director general (Mary Chirwa); do you know that she worked for DEC (Drug Enforcement Commission) for 18 years? At the time we recruited her, we got her from DEC where she was [the] head of anti-money laundering investigations which she had been doing for nearly six years,” he explained.
“She has prosecuted a lot of cases, she has investigated a lot of cases. If you look at the analysts that we have, take it from me, they’ve got skills that are highly sought after in the region. They are special people! They are not, as we say in Zambia, takataka (unreliable). They are very specially trained and dedicated. Zambians should be proud of the FIC.”
Asked if the FIC was shaken, in the face of its ravaging critics, Kasanga answered: “not exactly!”
“We went through a fierce similar experience last year when we published the 2017 trends report. Of course, there were all types of all responses that came out from various members of society – some are our very close stakeholders,” he recalled.
“I believe that the role and functions of the FIC have never been very well understood. Perhaps we need to do more to educate a lot of people, both those who are involved in policy-making, the general public, those who are in law enforcement [agencies]….”
Kasanga indicated that it was impossible to hide money because it had to pass through a bank.
“If I give you money and you say ‘I won’t take it to the bank,’ you are going to purchase an asset or you are going to give it to someone else… So, all you just have to do is follow the money and all will be reviewed and that’s what happens with the FIC. The FIC is not there to just put its nose all over the place and say ‘let’s embarrass this one.’ No!” Kasanga said.
“If there’s no suspicion, we have no interest. If you have come across money and we receive a report that you have received $20,000, we’ll take that and say ‘ok, it’s normal but where is the source?’ If it’s from your rearing chickens or what, please sleep comfortably at home. I would like to assure Zambians, all those doing legitimate business, please sleep soundly. If how you earn your money is clean, is legitimate, why should you worry?”
He pointed that the FIC took its role seriously.
“Zambia must be in good standing internationally. The FIC isn’t there just to cause a public furore. The vision of the FIC is to have a Zambia that is free of financial crimes,” Kasanga said.
“The thing that the public must understand, especially with financial transactions involving public funds where crimes are committed, that money is equal to the deficit you see in hospitals – no drugs, no beds – roads breaking up, education – no books and in universities students can’t be paid. [It’s] because the money that should have gone there has gone to fund individuals who are now accumulating scarce public resources. So, when you see the cases where public funds have been misused or stolen, you must link them to the challenges the government is facing in delivering public services resulting in death… No individual is bigger than Zambia and the moment we start thinking of Zambia and putting Zambia first, then it’s easy to understand the role of the FIC.”
He also noted that President Lungu had been: “very supportive of the FIC.”
On some of the challenges the FIC was grappling with, Kasanga indicated that sometimes the Centre’s staff received threats to their lives.
“As you know, people who commit these kinds of crimes are dealing with large amounts of money and they don’t want someone stepping on their toes or threatening to expose them. So, they would rather clamp down on those who are likely to expose them,” Kasanga disclosed.
“So, it’s a perpetual risk that I pray for and I would urge the rest of Zambians to pray for our people at the FIC. They are exposed to threats to their personal lives….”
Kasanga further pointed out that people could say whatever they wanted to say about the FIC.
[But] my prayer is that they do not embolden criminals to now think that they have been given leeway to now do whatever they want to, to the FIC. I would urge everyone, including His Excellency the President and ministers; you may have problems with the FIC, yes, it’s not a perfect institution. [But] it is your institution; protect it,” Kasanga pleaded.
“It’s important that we protect institutions like the FIC and the people who sacrifice so much to work and ensure that they provide the best available intelligence for law enforcement.”
He added that when the FIC was criticised in the manner, sometimes, it is, such emboldened criminals.
“So, it’s extremely important that our messaging is very clear; are we for FIC or are we for criminals? Let’s do whatever we can to protect the FIC – it’s our institution set up by the government for the good of the people of Zambia,” Kasanga stressed.
Kasanga lamented that financial crimes were not lessening but increasing.
He also clarified that there was nothing in the 2018 FIC trends report that was speculative.
“There is nothing in the trends report that involves raw data. The FIC does not disseminate or include in any trends report raw data,” he clarified.
Meanwhile, Kasanga noted that public sympathy ought to be directed at law enforcement agencies that operated under: “very difficult circumstances.”
“Our law enforcement agencies operate under very difficult conditions and these need to be addressed if we are to succeed in fighting money laundering and the financing of terrorism because they are the ones who can prosecute. We can identify the crime but they are the bosses that deal with it,” he said.
“But if they’ve got capacity constraints, then it will appear we are just blowing hot air each time people read the trends report. Then everybody is upset!”
He said every year, the FIC put in the trends report politically exposed persons but asked how many had been prosecuted.
“If we focus on the FIC and the trends report, we are ignoring the crime. That’s why I’m saying we’ll embolden the criminals to now believe it’s a safe haven to work under,” Kasanga noted.
“Whenever anything comes in the trends report, everybody will be attacking the FIC whilst the criminals go scot free! That is a serious risk and it undermines the credibility of the country, even its international standing.”
He said the FIC existed to save the public interest and that it would never shirk its responsibilities.
“Like any other living organism, the FIC is not exactly perfect but the FIC is committed to continuously improve itself,” assured Kasanga.
“Our intention is a Zambia free of financial crimes and if we can galvanise support and continue to receive the support of our government, there is no reason why we cannot turn Zambia into a financial free country.”