— FIU Boss Harris declares
By David A. Yates and Simeon Wiakanty
Edwin E. Harris, the newly inducted Director General of the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU), has vowed to vigorously go after institutions that will be caught in violating financial laws through money laundering and terrorist financing in the country.
He believed that under his supervision, the agency will be looking at beneficial owners who are hiding behind both legitimate and shelling companies in the proceeds of crimes. “We will expand and bring into regulations real estate, especially construction companies, who will now be allowed to disclose the ownership of infrastructures under construction.”
The FIU boss warned companies’ owners, who are facilitating the act of dual crimes of money laundering and terrorist financing in the country, to desist as the FIU, in keeping with its authority and powers, will fearlessly go after those companies that are suspected to be in such crimes.
“Going forward, cooperating with the FIU upon request in keeping with the law will be in the best interest of all for amicable resolutions as the law provides remedies for those who will not cooperate, whereby the full exercise of the FIU’s statutory mandate will be used at full extent,” Harris added.
The new FIU boss then cautioned, saying it is time that all stakeholders work together in preserving the integrity of the financial system by disallowing criminals to contaminate the system, laundering their money derived from crimes and using the system to support terroristic tendencies.
Harris made the remarks on Friday, November 3, 2019, when he was officially inducted into office by the board of directors of the FIU held at the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL).
He disclosed that the FIU would be amending the Suspicious Transaction Activity Report and Currency Transaction Activity Report Regulations of 2016 for Financial Institutions in keeping with section 4.1 of the regulation that empowers the FIU, adding that this regulation gives the FIU the authority to amend or repeal these regulations from time to time as the situation dictates. “We believe the current regulations that provide the need for fines as a sanction is weak and by this provides an incentive for wrongdoing. Hence, the goal of the proposed amendment to the regulation is to make sanctions dissuasive and proportional,” said the Director-General.
He indicated that the FIU for the last five years has concerned itself with building its own capacity internally, coordinating with other agencies domestically and setting the pace for its next level. The new FIU boss further lamented that he believes it is the time for a new level of the FIU, which will see non-compliant institutions be met with the laws and authority of the FIU.
“It is time that, in keeping with the FIU law, we go after the procedure of crimes derived from premeditated offenses. It is the time that the FIU activate its sanctions and other administrative policies in preventing the dual crimes of money laundering and terrorist financing.”
He said it has become of relevant concern in many quarters both locally and internationally, as to why have there not been any conviction on money laundering and terrorist financing in Liberia? He indicated that based on his initial assessment of the FIU, his reply to the pertinent query, is the observation of the issue surrounding the mandate of the FIU which, he narrated, cannot prosecute or secure a conviction in keeping with FIU functions and powers enshrined in section 67 of the 2013 Financial Intelligence Unit Act and the Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing law of 2013, saying: “These mandates only allow the FIU to exercise its power as deterrence against would-be wrongdoers.”
The FIU Director-General disclosed that support to the institution in making it independent, effective and operational remains the highest evidence that the government of Liberia has to demonstrate as a political will in fighting money laundering and terrorist financing.
He used his induction to call on partners of Liberia to support the FIU’s work since, according to him, the crimes of Money Laundering and terrorist financing are borderless and the weakness of one jurisdiction that can adversely impact the world at large. “We look to open new discussions on these matters with all of our partners and collaborating agencies to get this work done as we begin to make our financial sector a safe and vibrant space for all.”
Speaking on the economic challenge facing the country, the agency Director-General said it is an undeniable fact that Liberia is faced with tough economic challenges that are now becoming a threat to peace and stability – it is his plea that Liberians, as a people, should remain strong, focus, and determined, realizing that tough times don’t last but tough people do.
“It is a certain fact that economic stability will present itself when Liberians put themselves to work to achieve the dreams and visions Liberians cradle for Liberia. This is a realization that is soon to be material from Liberians’ action where all participate through the spending of wages and incomes derived from lawful employment or profits from businesses in support of Liberians’ common hope to see the nation uplifted,” Harris said.
He continued, “This is not a dream far-fetched, but one we can acquire when we muster the strength to build upon what we have and work it to achieve. When we resolve to do this, then can our hopes and aspirations come alive with tangible results? In so doing, we must do what is constitutional and morally right against the odds.”
Meanwhile, Harris has extended special thanks and appreciation to President George M. Weah for nominating him to serve the Liberian People, using the institutional framework of the Financial Intelligence Unit of Liberia.
The Financial Intelligence Unit was created in 2012 act of the legislature, approved on April 30, 2013, and published May 2, 2013, as the national agency responsible for receiving, requesting, conducting preliminary investigations, analyzing and disseminating information to competent authority concerning suspected proceeds of crime.