In continuation of its onslaught against forex dealers over the current dollar crisis in the country, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission on Wednesday arrested no fewer than 87 forex dealers in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, Lagos and Kano.
Findings by The PUNCH revealed that the EFCC detectives stormed several forex trading hubs in Abuja, ransacking their vaults for stash of dollars and naira.
The operatives later arrested no fewer than 25 legal and illegal forex dealers in addition to the 40 arrested on Tuesday during a raid of the Zone 4 Wuse offices of the Association of Bureau de Change Operators, bringing the number of arrests in the Federal Capital Territory to 65.
During the operation, the EFCC personnel were said to have seized the phones of those that were arrested.
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The anti-graft agency also nabbed about 14 forex dealers in Lagos on Wednesday while eight others were picked up at the famous Bureau de Change market located at Wapa in Kano metropolis.
The development came barely 24 hours after operatives of the anti-graft commission arrested the Kogi State House of Assembly candidate of the New Nigeria Peoples Party, Ismaila Atumeyi, with N326m and $140,500 cash.
Atumeyi, who is seeking to represent Ankpa 11 Constituency in the Kogi State House of Assembly, was arrested on Sunday, October 30, 2022 alongside one Joshua Dominic, an alleged serial fraudster in a sting operation at Macedonia Street, Queens Estate, Karsana, Gwarinpa, Abuja.
In Lagos, EFCC detectives swooped on forex dealers on Broad Street in Lagos Island as well as some BDC outlets in other parts of the states.
Forex traders, who spoke with The PUNCH on condition of anonymity, said the EFCC operatives came in two buses. It was learnt that about 14 BDC operators were arrested in Lagos.
The PUNCH had reported that the operation against the BDCs, which began on Tuesday, would be extended to Lagos, Anambra, Oyo and Rivers states.
Though no reason had been given for the raids, the EFCC operation, it was gathered, was targeted at tracking illicit funds from terrorists, bandits and politicians who might want to convert their stash in a desperate move to beat the redesign of the naira announced by the Central Bank of Nigeria.
The new naira notes, which would replace higher denominations, would be released on December 15.
It was as if the naira responded to the raids as it rallied to N820/$ on Wednesday from N857 it plunged to the previous day at the parallel market.
But speaking on the Abuja raid, the Assistant Provost, Association of Bureau de Change Operators, Zone 4, Wuse, Mallam Muhammed Nera, disclosed that 13 out of the 25 persons arrested on Wednesday had been released to the association, noting that their phones were, however, still in the EFCC’s custody.
Nera described the raids as illegal, noting that the commission did not present an arrest or search warrant before ransacking offices and taking people away.
A visibly angry Nera stated, ’’Forty persons were arrested on Tuesday but they have released almost all of them but held on to their phones which they went to collect on Wednesday. They kept them throughout the whole day before releasing their handsets.
“Today (Wednesday), they came again and arrested 25 persons. They released 13 of them without their phones and detained 12 others. Over 30 phones were seized; they even seized the phones of some bankers who were looking for depositors. It was when they wanted to leave that they realised their error and returned the phones.’’
The forex dealer accused the EFCC of ethnic profiling, noting that the BDC operators were being harassed because they were northerners, insisting that they have not done anything wrong.
He challenged the anti-graft agency to disclose the crimes for which the dealers were being held, noting that they were ordinary Nigerians doing legitimate business.
Nera stated, “They (EFCC operatives) heard that people are bringing naira to the market to change into dollars. What is bad about that? Is it stolen money? If it is stolen money, let us know. We can work together, and help to identify people who stole their money.
“We don’t understand what these people were doing. They threatened to break down our offices. They said if they met any office locked, they would break it down. They didn’t show us any warrant; they were just entering offices, they are doing illegal work. They didn’t have any warrant; just because they are EFCC. Anybody can wear (EFCC) jackets and claim to be EFCC.’’
Asked if the operatives took away money, the ABCO official said, ‘’They didn’t collect money, it was just the harassment, threatening people. A bureau de change is a legal business. We have our certificates, we are doing legal businesses just like banks.’’
He added, ‘’About 90 per cent of bureau de change operators are northerners. We are thinking they are harassing us because we are northerners but we are citizens of Nigeria. This business is not only for northerners, it is being done in Lagos and other places but most are northerners.
‘’They just want to cripple us because we have been keeping quiet. They have been harassing our people every time; it is annoying, it is getting out of hand. Nobody is above the law but they are breaking the law. We are going to petition the National Assembly and also take them to court. We are going to fight to the end.’’
Nera particularly took umbrage at the alleged maltreatment of elderly forex dealers during the raid, insisting that the commission did not follow the proper procedure.
“It is true that 70 per cent of us didn’t go to school, does that mean we should not have money? They would say it is aboki (Hausa) business. What they are doing is too bad. We are going to take it up legally. The other time, they accused us of funding Boko Haram. Is it because we are aboki or what? This is disgusting, it is not fair and God is watching.
“Some people were even sleeping in their offices and they would ask them to open their offices and demand to see their dollars and other currencies. If you go to a bank, won’t you see dollars there? We are doing cash business,’’ he stated indignantly.
The EFCC spokesman, Wilson Uwujaren did not respond to the allegations when contacted on Wednesday.
EFCC meets BDCs
Meanwhile, the Chairman of the EFCC, AbdulRasheed Bawa, on Tuesday met with the Association of Chief Compliance Officers of Banks in Nigeria, top forex operators under the aegis of the Association of Bureau De Change Operators as well as other critical stakeholders in the financial services sector in Lagos.
The BDC operators were summoned to the meeting as the agency continues its raids on outlets.
The meeting, it was learnt, was attended by the National President, ABCON, Alhaji Aminu Gwadabe; Vice President, Azubuike Igbokwe, and no fewer than 12 other top exco members of the BDC association.
Bawa, who chaired the meeting was said to have emphasised how the CBN naira redesign might lead to a situation where those with illicit funds would be seeking BDCs as an avenue to channel their funds.
BDC operators at the meeting said all licensed BDCs were advised to be extremely careful in their day-to-day operations by requesting their customers’ information.
“Secondly, they were informed that BDCS are the gatekeepers of the economy and their operations and that of their directors will be keenly monitored by both the CBN and security agencies. As such, the BDCs were advised not to be involved as cash couriers,’’ a source said.
The EFCC chairman was quoted as saying, “It is a serious infraction and subject to prosecution. Render your statutory and regulatory returns; record-keep all your transactions.’’
ABCON president, Gwabade, in an interview with one of our correspondents, confirmed the meeting.
He said the association had been sensitising its members not to allow themselves to be used by political actors and other corrupt elements who might be seeking BDCs as avenues to keep their ill-gotten wealth.
He said, “We are in support of the raids and we will continue to cooperate with the government. We have been sensitising our members and we will continue to do so.”
However, the ABCON leaders said the raids had led to intended and unintended consequences such as the spike in the dollar against the naira in recent times, stressing the need for the CBN to address the liquidity shortage in the retail end of the market.
“We will cooperate with the government to address terrorism, and banditry financing with naira redesign,” Gwadabe pledged.
A statement by the Head, of Media and Publicity, Uwujaren on Wednesday, explained that Bawa sought the collaboration of the chief compliance officers as well as Bureau De Change operators in the fight against foreign exchange malpractices, money laundering and other fraudulent activities in the nation’s financial sector.
He was also said to have urged them to promptly disclose fraudulent activities about illicit deposits and the movement of money through deposit money banks.
Bawa advises dealers
Bawa further advised the banks’ compliance officers and BDC operators to be wary of the activities of criminals who might want to use the financial institutions to hoard monies for the purpose of vote buying.
He stated, “The EFCC cannot do the job alone. We need to work with you as critical stakeholders, particularly in ensuring a seamless exchange of relevant information to forestall the commission of economic and financial crimes.
“We need better cooperation, synergy, collaboration, intelligence sharing and, if need be, joint operations with you.
If there is better management, in terms of communication about the people bringing in monies or the modus operandi being used to disguise this origin of the money, it will go a long way in tackling the issue of money laundering and financial crimes.
“In view of the recent move by the Central Bank of Nigeria to redesign and re-issue higher denominations of the Nigerian currency, the naira, there is a need for us to be proactive and be circumspect of the actions of the criminals who will use the financial institutions to launder illicit funds and commit other nefarious activities.
“It is important for you to understand what this policy is all about, considering the fact that a lot of activities will happen, particularly as the 2023 general elections approach.
We want to work with you to get more information on how to deal with these issues.
“You are very critical in the fight against economic and financial crimes. This is because, at the end of it, money leaves the bank and money goes in, either for deposit or withdrawal.’’
He further advised the financial institutions to take seriously the issue of ‘Know Your Customer’ and improve intelligence sharing with the Commission.
“The issue of KYC must go beyond sighting utility bills and receipts of customers. This needs to be taken further to forestall cybercrime,’’ he admonished.
In the meantime, the New Nigerian Peoples Party candidate for the Kogi State House of Assembly, Ismaila Atumeyi, who was arrested by the EFCC in Abuja for a mega bank fraud, has been moved to Lagos.
The politician-cum cyber fraud suspect was flown into Lagos in the early hours of Wednesday in continuation of the investigation into the scam, the EFCC disclosed in a statement.
He is billed to be interrogated by another team of operatives at the Lagos command of the Commission.
Atumeyi and two others, Joshua Dominic and Abdulmalik Femi, a former bank employee, were arrested by the EFCC for allegedly hacking into the system of a commercial bank and defrauding the institution of over N1.4bn.
The EFCC had in a statement on Tuesday, disclosed that it recovered N326m and $140,500 from Atumeyi during a sting operation at his hideout in Queens Estate, Gwarimpa, Abuja, while $470, 000 was recovered from Abdulmalik in Lagos.
The Edo State governor, Mr. Godwin Obaseki, has described the proposed plan by the CBN to redesign naira notes as political, noting that the move was a ploy by the All Progressives Congress-led government to sway voters ahead of the 2023 general elections.
Obaseki stated this while inaugurating the Edo State Peoples Democratic Party Women Campaign Council at the Presidential Campaign Secretariat in Benin City, the Edo State capital on Wednesday.
Lambasting the Federal Government over the move, Obaseki said the redesign of the nation’s currency shouldn’t be a priority as the majority of citizens are suffering from hunger, poverty and economic hardship.
He said, “They say we should all bring our naira and give it to them because they want to change it for us. Is that our priority now? Does changing of currency reduce the price of food in the market? They say they want to change our currency and dollars are going higher every day. We can’t even see dollars again.
“I am an economist and I can tell you categorically that this policy by the CBN and Federal Government has no basis in Nigeria’s economy. There is no reason to do this; the move is purely political as there is no urgency in changing our currency.
“The urgency is on how to get food for our citizens to remove starvation and hunger from the land. The urgency is on how to maintain discipline in our monetary policy so that we can manage our foreign exchange rate because we are import-dependent.”