Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC) acting board chairperson John Kasanga says he is mystified by President Edgar Lungu’s reaction to the released 2018 Trends Report.
Kasanga says he is also surprised with the position taken by the Drug Enforcement Commission (DEC) over the FIC report.
Meanwhile FIC Director Mary Chirwa issued a statement yesterday to respond to the public debate about the mandate of the Centre.
Chirwa also came out to respond to the Zambia Revenue Authority statement that claimed that the Authority had not received the full details of the tax evasions highlighted in the Trends Report.
Commenting on the Zambian Watchdog online story, Chirwa wrote: “This is a lie people. These reports are for 2008 for Christ’s sake and there are records to even show what ZRA assessed from the reports, and what they recovered. Come on people, let’s be truthful.”
Later Chirwa issued a statement, explaining why the FIC is mandated to release the edited Trends Report to the public.
“Does the FIC have the mandate to publish the Trends Report? Yes. Both the FIC Act and the international standards require the FIC to conduct strategic analysis. The product of strategic analysis includes risks, trends and methods in money laundering which the FIC communicates to the public and other stakeholders through its Trends Report. The result of strategic analysis are used by the FIC to inform the public and other stakeholders of measures to detect, prevent, deter money laundering and financing of terrorism or proliferation pursuant to section 5(2)(e),” said Chirwa.
“The objective of the trends report is to inform the public and other stakeholders of measures to detect, prevent, deter money laundering and financing of terrorism or proliferation pursuant to section 5(2)(e). Further, the report may influence policy formulation by government to address money laundering and terrorist financing.”
Meanwhile, in an exclusive interview, Kasanga explained that Chirwa’s life, as well as the lives of other FIC managers were in danger because of the work they were doing.
He also complained about the public attack from the political executive, saying the reaction may have a negative impact on the country’s financial stability.
Further, Kasanga wondered how former State House Press Aide Amos Chanda accessed the Trends Report which named him as a suspect.
Below is the verbatim of the interview with Kasanga.
Question: What do you make of this public attack that you have received from government officials and private individuals?
Answer: I am surprised. It’s regrettable that the FIC Trends Report has been taken to mean what is not intended. The purpose of the trends report is to bring to light the financial crimes where actions are required in order to protect our country and the economy in particular and support financial stability. So it’s really regrettable that it has been taken in a different light.
Q: But what is it that you are doing wrong? Because we are told that the law doesn’t allow you to publicize even the edited version of the report?
A: Contrary to that, there are two things that I think need to be shared with your readers. Firstly, the law requires us to inform the public in proof, financial crimes that have been detected by the FIC as a way of galvanising, urging the public to be conscious and to thwart these activities, because remember, these activities don’t occur in isolation. It may be a person in the bank who is seeing a [huge] movement of money between accounts, it could be a person in the public service who is facilitating for a tender or organizing a tender or could be members of the private sector who are suffering from these consequences or those who sell their properties thinking [that] they are selling to a legitimate buyer. In other words, the whole country has to share a common desire to fight financial crimes. It affects every Zambian and any other outsider living in this country, they get directly or indirectly affected.
Q: During the launch, you said, as acting board chairperson, that you had received a lot of support from government institutions and you actually thanked the Attorney General for the support you were receiving from government to do your work. But what we are seeing is contrary to what you were saying that you were receiving a lot of support from government because government individuals are actually in the forefront rubbishing your work.
A: I must say that I am mystified and let me reiterate what I said. We have enjoyed a lot of support starting from His Excellency the President. We have enjoyed support and acknowledgment of the role that they FIC plays and indeed encouragement to continue to improve and support the government’s fight against corruption, money laundering, fraud and related predicate crimes. So it is mystifying if you were to ask me personally. Perhaps there is a point but I think that there is a way that this can be addressed by helping to clear what is it that they are unhappy about? I think it’s a very simple thing to clarify.
Q: What they are unhappy about is very clear, in the case of the President, he has categorically said that what you are spreading is gossip. How do you address that?
A: Look, as a board we provide oversight, we set out the policy to ensure that there is professionalism, that the work of the FIC staff is done professionally and it’s according to the mandate. And the mandate of the FIC is to request, receive, and analyse suspicious financial transaction reports or where the FIC has received information about financial crimes [and] sometimes it’s coming from what we call spontaneous disclosures [where] members of the public or those in office who feel that a possible crime is being committed will provide information, but the most important things I must say [is that] the FIC never disseminates a report unless they are sure that it is at least 90 per cent (90 %) complete for prosecution, and the details provided to the relevant Law Enforcement Agencies is done in the most comprehensive way to provide all the facts and all the details. And then allow them to do their work, hopefully bringing the perpetrators to book.
The Trends Report and the official dossiers that are passed on to Law Enforcement Agencies are very different in that they provide the details of where the assets are located, whether they are fixed or liquid assets, they detail who is involved, the persons involved and all those details are provided to Law Enforcement Agencies.
Q: The DEC is saying that this particular report which you released to the public alerts perpetrators to destroy evidence, and that some of the foreign nationals involved can even flee the country.
A: My answer is simply that the DEC is fully aware that of the four case studies that are reflected in the current Trends Report are edited, but the evidence cannot be moved. Similar examples were highlighted even last year. In other words, even today you can find those assets or where ever they are, they can be traced. So I am surprised. Obviously the DEC may have its concern but there is a memorandum of understanding and if they have issues, there is always so much space and time to discuss as professionals with their counterparts. But to suggest that by bringing out the Trends, we are alerting people, it’s wrong. And if the dissemination is done in June 2018 and in May 2019 you are saying ‘we are alerting perpetrators, then what happened in the nine (09) months? Wouldn’t they have hidden the proceeds of crime? Because don’t forget, investigating agencies also face this problem of people trying to conceal once they know [that] they are under investigations. So it’s a risk that everybody faces under Law Enforcement or under FIC. But the FIC works quietly [and] that is why it’s called intelligence. By the time a case study is appearing in the Trends Report, under any ordinary circumstance, the case should have even been closed.
Q: The public is still concerned that you are disseminating row data. What is your reaction to that?
A: I think the most important thing is for people to define what they mean by raw data? If I mention that Joseph Mwenda received a million dollars and out of that million dollars, he purchased that house, he purchased these cars and that that million dollars came from this public procurement contract which was over-priced, is that raw data? That is the question I would ask back. Would you consider that to be raw data? And it’s backed by fact, bank statements, copies of title-deeds where these are captured as transactions. In other words, you have got the details of the transactions that Joseph conducted and the FIC will then say that we believe a crime has been committed. Would you consider that as raw data?
Q: You are further accused of conducting investigations as you gather this data when your raw does not allow you to conduct investigations. How do you explain that?
A: I think again we need to define by what we mean by saying “investigation.” Investigators always gather intelligence. When the investigators are seen in public is when they have researched on a particular crime that has been reported to them, they have gathered their facts and they have defined what provision of the law has been infringed. So every investigation involves intelligence gathering. All that the FIC does is attempt to do all the intelligence gathering that will be required by the investigators and the hope of FIC is that all the investigators need to do is to get witness statements and use the court allowed procedure to collect exhibits by using warrants.
Q: Do you feel this propaganda against the FIC, in some way, is being influenced by some of the people who are affected or named in the Trends Report?
A: Let me start by saying that the Trends Report does not provide any single name. There is no one mentioned in the Trends Report by name neither are specifics of either the contracts of the procurement, deal or the sources. Trends Report is actually as defined is just showing the general Trends and the case studies are sanitized to remove any reference to any individual. So it becomes like a Bob Marley song [titled] he who the cap fits, let them wear it.
Q: I am glad you mentioned that because the immediate past spokesperson to the president actually did mention at the press conference that the report that was distributed to the public didn’t have his name but there is another version of the report which he had access to, where he is named and he is disputing those details that are contained in that part.
A: Remember, once the FIC disseminates to respective Law Enforcement Agencies, it’s now up to the Law Enforcement Agencies to protect that information and use it in accordance with their mandate. If it is then circulated to persons, either persons of interest or those who are not authorized to receive the dossier, then there is a problem. I will tell you personally [that] I have been involved with the FIC since inception [and] I have never seen a dossier because it’s not in our interest as the board to get into those details. That is for the professionals. So if it lands in the wrong hands, it means somewhere in the chain, someone has been either negligent or in advertently permitted the disclosure of intelligence information to the wrong person. For example if for example the immediate past Special Assistant to the President says he has seen another report, if he is a person of interest, why show him the report? Isn’t that what jeopardizes investigations? Then obvious we are breaking the chain of how things ought to be.
Q: We have heard that there are plans to remove the FIC Director General, she is being pursued. Do you think her life is in danger and what are you doing as a board to protect her?
A: When it comes to the full time staff that we have at the FIC, we are clearly very worried because you know rumours are very active in the past one week. You hear all types of things and so forth. And I must add that beyond issues of jobs, there are also threats to lives that we have to worry about because these are all people with families, people who have futures and they are only trying to be patriotic Zambians. And I can tell you [that] I have never served amongst people who are so professional as those at the FIC. Their dedication to seeing Zambia succeed is immeasurable. So, I don’t know what process would be used to dismiss her because there is a law, there are governing policies of the institution, but as you know, sometimes executive decisions are taken outside what you expect. We have committed to prayer that everyone will be safe because it’s very difficult to do more than that. So I can just ask that all well- meaning Zambians do their part to pray for her, and pray for all the members of staff and perhaps even for us who have served on the board that the blood of Jesus be in front of us.
Q: What message of appeal would you make to the President of Zambia regarding the FIC and the state of affairs at the moment?
A. At the moment, I would beseech His Excellency to say please, engage directly with FIC, not necessarily with members of the board but with the staff of the FIC and spend time together to review the Act, spend time together to review how they go about doing their work and how the trends report comes into the value chain and what it is intended to project. Then obviously His Excellency can then discuss what his actual concerns are so that this matter is dealt outside of the public domain because it sends mixed messages and I can assure you, talking as an economist and a person who has interacted at my consultancy side, these kinds of statements coming from the political executive are actually sending negative sentiments about our financial stability as a country. So we need to be mindful that we don’t aggravate our situation but rather help to reassure both our country men and women and the international community that Zambia is cohesively working together to fight money laundering and financing of terrorism.
Q: Thank you very much for the interview.
A: You are welcome.