ZAMBIA risks becoming a Mafia state where corrupt and criminal elements gang up against independent public institutions to cover their clandestine activities, says governance activist Nicholas Phiri.
Phiri, executive director of Zitukule Consortium, said the organisation was concerned that the leadership of the Financial Intelligence Centre has been on the receiving end of unwarranted attacks from some sections of society following the revelation of systematic criminal activities involving “politically exposed persons”.
Zitukule is a consortium of 16 non-governmental organisation that promote good governance and human rights.
Reacting to attacks on the FIC’s 2017 revelations in the Money laundering, terrorist financing trends report, Phiri stated that some of the people attacking the centre’s leadership were subjects of questionable dealings bordering on fraud which they had not fully accounted for.
“We have noted with concern that the leadership of the Financial Intelligence Centre has been on the receiving end of unwarranted attacks from some sections of society following the revelation of systematic criminal activities by the centre involving especially politically exposed persons. As Zitukule Consortium, we are concerned that those attacking the Centre have shown more anger at the act of publishing the trends report that exposes theft, corruption and all manner of graft in public resource management than they have shown anger at the looting going on in the public space. We find this behaviour very strange,” Phiri said.
Phiri further said it was unacceptable that corrupt elements should today become champions of the law.
“Zambia risks becoming a Mafia state where corrupt and criminal elements in the domain of the state, government and civil society gang up with economic interest groups against public good and independent public institutions to cover their clandestine activities. Some of the people attacking the leadership of the centre are subjects of questionable dealings bordering on fraud, which they have not fully accounted for. It is therefore unacceptable that such elements should today become champions of the law which in essence they don’t have respect for simply because it threatens to expose their illicit activities.”
Phiri insisted that the FIC report was and is in line with public and national interest, saying any law that facilitates instead of discourages theft must be trashed.
“From where we stand, the FIC report was and is in line with public and national interest. While respect for the law is imperative for good governance, it must serve the best interest of the populace. Any law that facilitates instead of discourages theft must be trashed. Nowhere does the FIC Act criminalise publication of public interest information. We are calling upon all well-meaning Zambians to question those attacking the centre whose interest they are serving. What is happening today is testimony that if citizens continue to remain on the sidelines of governance, those involved in graft will stop at nothing to defend their looting ways. It’s time to say enough is enough,” said Phiri.
In the report, the Financial Intelligence Centre said in 2017 alone, Zambia lost K4.5 billion (US$450 million) through financial crimes, and that such money has been laundered.
“In 2017, the Centre analysed and disseminated a total of 425 reports to local law enforcement agencies. The majority of cases were disseminated on the grounds of suspected tax evasion and corruption. The amount of estimated losses related to the above violations in 2017 was K4.5 billion,” FIC director-general Mary Tshuma said during the launch of the report.
“These are very serious ‘revelations’. USD450 million is a lot of money to lose to criminals in one year. If such money is put to proper utilisation, so many poor Zambians would benefit. We can build schools, hospitals, dual carriageways and even airports and be able to remunerate civil servants.”
Since the revelations, Tshuma and FIC have been under attack with former finance minister Alexander Chikwanda saying the centre is being insincere and giving raw, if not misleading, information. Meanwhile, PF media director Sunday Chanda on Monday accused FIC of grandstanding and playing to the gallery when they released the report to the public.
Chanda, in a statement, stated that there was nothing wrong with the FIC if it played the role it was established for.
“The Financial Intelligence Unit was established in November 2010 by an Act of Parliament. It’s a national agency designated and mandated to receive, request, analyse, and disseminate disclosure of information concerning money laundering, terrorist financing, and other serious suspected crimes to competent authorities for purposes of investigations.
According to the Act that establishes the Centre (Financial Intelligence Centre No. 46 of 2010 and Act no.4 of 2016) the FIC gathers this information from banks, financial institutions and others but must submit such information to law Enforcement Agencies and investigative wings and similar foreign entities related to cross border and international crimes,” stated Chanda.
“We have however noted with concern Mr Elias Chipimo, an Oxford university lawyer, who is on a clear mission to mislead and misinform the general public. Indeed If Mr. Chipimo was serious, he would have known that the Financial Intelligence Centre exists to collect raw information and as such its reports are nothing but intelligence reports whose contents are not prosecutorial in nature.
Reports by FIC are not prosecutorial in nature and any lawyer knows it! Mr. Chipimo ought to know that there are reports pointing to the FIC sending demands that lawyers or their accountants should disclose financial transactions related to their clients and such details should also include source of funds for amounts and business transactions above $5,000.00.
Mr. Chipimo ought to know that there are reports pointing to the FIC requesting selected estate agencies to disclose to them any civil servants above the position of Assistant Directors, Ministers and any magistrates and judges, who had recently bought a property. Mr. Chipimo ought to have known that the order to compel banks to report all clients’ transactions beyond the threshold of $5,000.00 has also instilled fear that businesses might begin to conduct transactions outside the banking and formal systems thereby creating a thriving black market and parallel economy.”
He stated that Chipimo should have known that in the manner FIC seeks to conduct itself, many had expressed concern whether this was the reincarnation of the feared Special Investigations Team for Economy and Trade (SITET) under UNIP, a terror monster used by the then one-party-state to terrorise businesses and political enemies under the cover of investigating economic crimes.
“Mr Chipimo ought to know that the Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC) is exactly that! An intelligence arm of the State specialising in gathering and providing information related to suspected financial and economic crimes and also help alert or flag financial support to terrorism activities. But contrary to innuendos by Mr Chipimo and others, the FIC: Is not a law enforcement agency; its information is raw and not prosecution material as it is intelligence information and usually sourced from third-parties. This information, however, is actionable, but would require further investigations and verification to make it meet the pre-trial stage standard. At this stage, like all intelligence information, it is not fit for prosecution but for information and leads. This information has to be further processed and should not be put out to the public as it alerts the alleged criminal suspect and also endangers opportunities and effort to a successful prosecution,” stated Chanda.
“Many are concerned at the grand-standing and populist manner the FIC has taken to even jeopardise in its work by making these unverified, un-researched information to the gallery.”