FINANCIAL Intelligence Centre (FIC) Director General Mary Chirwa has disclosed that the centre seized about 10 accounts during the transition period while 250 Suspicious Transactions have been identified since August 12.
And Chirwa has recalled that after the release of the 2018 Trends Report, one of the ministers threatened her, further revealing what have been her biggest frustrations since joining the centre.
Meanwhile, Chirwa says she is very excited going forward because of the free working environment.
Speaking when she featured on ZNBC’s Sunday Interview, Chirwa confirmed that some criminals were trying to externalise funds during the transition period.
She disclosed that from January 2021 to date, FIC has had seen 1,600 Suspicious Transaction Reports (STRs), 250 of which were reported since August 12.
“I can confirm that the President is not speaking from without (when he talks about people trying to externalise funds). He is at the helm of this country and he receives reports from different sectors. From the FIC point of view, I can confirm that we have seen transactions on different accounts where people are trying to externalise money and we are following up on those things. I can confirm that we have seen that kind of trend coming up. In this transition period from the FIC point of view, I think we have seized about 10 accounts and we have liaised with the law enforcement agencies and given them information of the particular accounts and why we seized them and they are coming in. For most of these accounts, I will tell you that these are cases that we have had long before ongoing and where we have suspected illegalities. When we send a questionnaire to reporting entities like the banking sector, they are alert. We do not go out fishing but we follow transactions and transactions lead us to people,” Chirwa said.
“From January 2021 to date, we have had 1,600 STRs. But like I have said we need to do our work for us to be able to see which ones really are worth disseminating to the law enforcement agencies. If I can say that just from the 12th of August, 2021, we have had 250 STRs. So you can see that these reports within two weeks, we have had more 250 STRs. So we have reports that are coming in continuously and I hope the government will help us by increasing the staff and funding to FIC. Our indications are that there is so much cash that is outside the banking system, that is seated with individuals whether corporate or just individuals. We are working hand in hand with law enforcement agencies to strategise around this thing.”
And Chirwa said she was very excited going forward because of the free working environment.
“If we look at 2021 from January to date, we have cash deposits on corporate accounts of K8.6 billion and then you have cash withdrawals of K8.5 billion. It is not sitting in the bank. So we must know what is going on. Almost everything that is deposited is withdrawn. Where is it going? Is it going in the Real Estate sector? Is it going into the motor industry? Now we have to do a detailed analysis of those accounts and then from there, we tell the policymakers that this is what we are seeing. And one interesting thing, I am very excited beginning now going forward, with the free environment that we have to work [in]. The reporting entities have an obligation to report any suspicious transaction,” she said.
“If you see K8.6 billion deposited and K8.5 billion withdrawn immediately or sent to other sectors, the bank should be able to question. So now we will go to the reporting agencies, you have the obligation under the law to report this but why have you not been doing so? So if they have not been doing that we have an administrative sanctioning system under the law. So now we are going full-fledged to ensure that we implement what is in the law so that the Zambian people get what belongs to them. As of now, we have not sanctioned any sector. The government must be able to empower us so that we have officers that can look into all these sectors. This is a lot of work.”
Meanwhile, Chirwa shared some of her biggest frustrations since she joined FIC.
“I think one of the biggest frustrations has been that you were not seeing results from law enforcement agencies in terms of prosecutions and all that, of which we are seeing is improving. That has been frustrating. Whatever you put in, you expect an output so we were not seeing an output and that was very frustrating. In terms of individual threats to myself and my officers, I think that has been a frustrating part of our lives. From suspects mostly, I will tell you that in 2018 when we released the 2018 trends report, one of the Ministers then called me and said the mother was crying because I had mentioned him in the trends report. And I asked politely, has your mother read that report and have you read that report or have you seen your name? So you do not come and threaten me because you have the media releasing names which I have not done. So it is frustrating that people do not want to appreciate what is on the table so that we find solutions to it and they want to be defensive. It really does frustrate,” she said.
Chirwa said FIC was happy with the works which reporting agencies were doing.
“Within the period of 2020, ZRA did assess an amount of K63.3 million on the cases that we disseminated to them. So we are happy with the works that they are doing. When we see that we bring money back into the treasury, it gives us satisfaction as officers of the Financial Intelligence Centre. I will give you an example of the Ministry of Health, they award a contract to this particular company and when we look at the movement of funds when this company is paid, we see funds going back to individuals within the ministry and those individuals suddenly amassing wealth. There are conditions under the ZPPA Act of what companies can be eligible for a particular contract. Some of the requirements are that a company should have worked for five years and they should show that they are able to execute. But you find that a company that has just been incorporated within two months, it raises a red flag to us,” said Chirwa.
“We have been let down for some time but I should say that the trend is getting better and we are seeing that they are working on the cases may be with their own priorities. They also receive from other agencies and not only FIC. We would love them to deal with these cases at a faster rate than expected. If I give you the quarter returns that we have, maybe out of 10 reports that we disseminate to law enforcement agencies you find that only one is closed. So they are appreciating the reports that we send to them. The process of investigating and opening a docket is also not a simple case. The problem that we have is that there is sometimes this public excitement, one would go to the media and say my account was seized. And because the media will publicize it, the law enforcement [agencies] will be put at a faster speed to work on it. So if everyone gives our institutions the space to work, let us give you the results of the work we are doing and you will see the results.”