Photograph — World Economic Forum

Human rights lawyer, Femi Falana, has held western governments culpable for money laundering and other corrupt acts in Africa, urging them to deploy greater measures in helping African countries recover looted funds. He also stressed the need to penalize public officials involved in such acts.

In his paper titled ‘Human Rights Issues Surrounding The Non-Return of Assets to Countries of Origin’ delivered at the 8th Annual Conference of Anti-corruption Agencies in Commonwealth Africa last Friday in Abuja, Mr Falana said measures like visa denials for corrupt public officials, penalising foreign banks who help in money laundering and elevating corruption to a crime against humanity are critical to eliminating corruption on the continent.

“For the credibility of the request, the reports should include the names of serving public officers who have been indicted. Western countries should deny visas to any public officer travelling for medical treatment abroad,” said Mr Falana, Senior Advocate of Nigeria.

And concerning the western financial institutions who help in money laundering, Mr Falana emphasized that “Loopholes in the financial system should be blocked to prevent capital flight and money laundering. Banks and other financial institutions aiding money laundering should be sanctioned and made to pay aggravated and exemplary reparation. They may also be sued in the countries where the offences may have been committed.”

The illicit plundering of Africa’s resources is often stored in tax havens of western corporations. The Organisation of Economic Corporation and Development (OECD) published a report earlier this year which revealed that illicit outflows in Africa reach about $50 billion every year, and is currently outpacing public development aid on the African continent. Development aids were worth $20 billion in 2016.

“African countries should lead a campaign for the classification of grand corruption as a crime against humanity which should be tried by the International Criminal Court,” Falana said. “Stolen wealth is not an abstract idea dangling in the air; it fosters poverty, diseases and illiteracy, ill-health and general social deprivations.”

“It also subverts good governance and the rule of law of the country from which the wealth has been stolen. Every single one of the index of underdevelopment mentioned above is interwoven with the holding of stolen wealth and it is inimical to basic human rights and decency,” he added.

The African Development Bank (AfDB) also expressed worry over the yearly loss, which has been attributed to trade malpractices, abusive transfer pricing, criminality, corruption and outright theft of natural resources in Africa. AfDB warns that all of this could lead to major financial crises and prevalent poverty on the continent in a short time.

The Senior Director at African Development Bank in Nigeria, Dr Ebrima Fall highlighted transparency, closer monitoring of commercial routes of illicit financial flows and the need to put in more efforts into asset recovery and repatriation as major ways to curb corruption in Africa.

As it is, the fight against this recalcitrant demon needs both the active involvement and cooperation of African leaders and the unhypocritical participation of the foreign communities. While foreign aid has steadily increased since the turn of the new millennium, most of those funds have only been laundered and have found their way back to those countries where the aids came from.

Banks in nations like the United States, United Kingdom and Switzerland are some of the destinations for many of Africa’s stolen wealth. Thus, instead of more aids that would most likely be stolen again, the foreign community will do better if it meted out appropriate judgement to every accomplice involved in money laundering, including the financial institutions.

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