Representatives from the 15 Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) members on Wednesday converged in Freetown, Sierra Leone, for a three-day conference on combating money-laundering and terrorist financing in the maritime sector.
The conference, organized by the Inter-Governmental Action Group Against Money Laundering in West Africa (GIABA), will last through Friday.
Sierra Leone’s Deputy Minister of Finance Patricia Laverley said the fight against money laundering and terrorist financing had gained global momentum due to threats that those crimes posed to the integrity of the financial system, implications of state security, stability and the rule of law.
“The negative effects of money-laundering and terrorist financing on economic development to a nation are difficult to quantify,” she said.
Laverley said it was expected that the conference would boost security in the region, particularly within the Gulf of Guinea, against maritime threats, reduce illegitimate trade and establish a solid financial system.
“At the end of the conference, it is expected that there would be enhanced money-laundering analysis in maritime sector of member states, improvement in compliance level of financial and maritime institutions, less incidences of money-laundering and terrorist financing in maritime space,” she noted.
Reading a statement on behalf of GIABA Director-General KImelabalou ABA, Director of Programs and Projects Buno E. Nduka noted that international trade was important for a number of African economies, with more than 90 percent of African countries’ imports and exports being shipped by sea.
“Due to the lack of security at sea and the shortfalls of the international trade control system, these vulnerabilities are exploited by criminal organizations and terrorist groups to transfer funds for illegitimate purposes,” he said.
Nduka said the main objective of the conference was to build the technical capacity of law enforcement officers by emphasizing the existence and relevance of financial and trade data, crime-targeting and the necessary analytical skills.
Financial Intelligence Unit Director Ahmed B. Kamara, who also doubles as GIABA national correspondent for Sierra Leone, said: “There is a whole host of illegal activities on our waters that generate proceeds of crime which are then laundered in the formal and informal economies.”
He noted that with the ongoing oil exploration and the prospect of oil discovery, drilling and export of crude oil in the near future, “there is going to be an explosion of illegal maritime activities ahead of us”.
“I… welcome GIABA’s initiative in bringing this conference to our doorsteps in order to sensitize and galvanize all actors,” Kamara said.