THE Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC) has frozen Konkola Copper Mines (KCM) liquidator Milingo Lungu’s bank accounts following some suspicious transactions.
But FIC Director General Mary Chirwa has declined to confirm the development, saying it would be unprofessional and illegal for her to names of people whose accounts have been seized by the centre.
Sources close to Lungu, who is a partner at Lungu Simwanza and Associates, told News Diggers that the development came as a shock to the Lawyer who has been superintending over operations at the country’s biggest mine since government repossessed it from Vedanta Resources of India.
The sources said Lungu was surprised because when he attempted to make a financial transaction at the bank, he realized that it could not go through.
“He wanted to transfer some money to some offshore bank but the transaction was blocked and that’s when he discovered that FIC had moved in to freeze the accounts. According to him, he has complained that his personal accounts have been seized and he also said that even some KCM bank accounts were frozen also. I am sure the law enforcement agencies will announce soon, but that is what has happened,” the source said.
Efforts to get a comment from Lungu proved futile by press time as his phone went answered.
Last week, the Financial Intelligence Centre issued a statement, alerting banks and other reporting entities to be vigilant for people who would be making suspicious financial transactions during the government transition period.
The FIC anticipated that illegal financial activities by criminal elements would rise as a result of the post-August 12 general elections.
And in an interview, Chirwa confirmed that FIC had seized a number of accounts for certain individuals who were trying to move their money to offshore accounts.
She however, could not disclose the identities of the said individuals, stating that it was not only unprofessional but could jeopardize their work.
“The work of FIC, the work of law enforcement [agencies], it’s very difficult to comment in the media when we are working on something because when it’s still in its infancy, it jeopardizes the work that we do. And so we can’t just be coming out to say ‘we have seized this, we have seized that’ because for FIC, there are a number of accounts that we have seized pre-election, post-election. And those cases we have disseminated to law enforcement agencies, especially DEC,” she said.
“So for me to come out and say ‘yes, for Mary we have seized’ those are things that can bring legal repercussions on the institution. We are doing our work we can assure you, we have been doing our work even before these elections and so on. The other day I was even telling my officers that I don’t know how I can speak to the media. I know they do their job in asking about specific cases, but they put as in a very awkward situation because those matters, I will seize [an account] today because I have intelligence information that probably this one wants to wire money to that country, and because we have had ongoing cases on them, we seize those accounts and we quickly inform the law enforcement so that they can move in quickly.”
She noted that some people were panicking and attempting to transfer huge amounts of money.
“What we wonder is why would someone now be in a panic to move so much money outside the country? Maybe even what you might hear is just a drop in the ocean. But really, it will be very unprofessional of me, believe you me, to start mentioning names of the accounts that have been seized. The only thing I can assure you of is that yes we have seized a number of accounts where we have seen people panicking, trying to move money to offshore accounts and we are working hand in hand with the law enforcement agencies on all the matters that we have looked in way before the elections. As you know, these institutions like FIC, they are institutions of good governance. They go beyond a change of government or any election. Our mandate was given to us as by law so it’s not affected by who is in government. We do our work diligently, regardless of who is there,” Chirwa said.
“We are swiftly working on it because we have always been alert. And these people are aware. And the only thing I can assure them is that even if they move money wherever, whether it’s Dubai, Mauritius, South Africa, anywhere else, we are connected. You know that the FIC is a member of the egmont group, we will still be able to work with our sister FIU in these countries and those monies or properties will still be seized and the law enforcement will kick in. We will be able to get back for the Zambians what belongs to the Zambians,” she said.
On President Hakainde Hichilema’s assurance that the law enforcement agencies would operate independently, Chirwa said the pronouncement would enable law enforcement agencies to work without fear or favour.
“Of course a free working environment is what we all desire, but like I earlier said, I think our mandate is enshrined in the law. It doesn’t require even that kind of pronouncement from the President. We work independently, we work autonomously as institutions that have been mandated, just as FIC has proved itself over the years. It doesn’t matter who is occupying what office, we will do what is required of us by the law and we will fulfill our mandate accordingly. Obviously there are certain bottlenecks that come with a government or a regime maybe that is not interested in fighting corruption. Where probably you can disseminate a case that is not worked on. As you know, our powers as FIC are limited. We really gather the required actionable financial intelligence which we disseminate to law enforcement agencies. We don’t have investigative or prosecutorial powers. So once we have done that and we can prove to the law enforcement agencies that this is how the transactions have been moving, we end there. So I truly believe that with the tone being set right at the top, this really gives each and every institution to do what they need to do correctly without anybody sitting on their powers,” he said.
“And for me, I think it’s an added advantage because you know that you will be able to work without fear or favour because in as much as we were working, obviously, there were threats and fears of our own lives and all that. But now you are assured that you can do what you need to do without fear or favour.”
Asked whether the trends report would be released this year, Chirwa disclosed that the report would be released during the course of this week.
“Believe you me, our trends report has been there. I think you saw that we issued our annual report which goes through the Minister and I can assure you that by that date, we already had our trends report. But you must be aware that government issued an instruction to all government institutions that we can only do our printing through government printers. And even if you were to check the records with government printers, we gave them our document for printing I think somewhere in March and it only came out the day after the announcement of the current President’s election on 20th [August]. That’s when government printers released our printed documents. We have since engaged ACC and ZRA and we will be able to put it on our website during the course of this week,” said Chirwa.