The Chairman of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), Prof. Bolaji Owasanoye, on Monday, called on legal practitioners and members of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) to work in tandem with law enforcement agencies to curb money laundering and terrorism financing.
According to a statement on Tuesday by ICPC’s spokesperson, Mrs Azuka Ogugua, he made this call at the NBA’s Annual General Conference held at the Velodrome of the National Stadium in Abuja.
Prof Owasanoye, who was part of a panel of discussion on ethics and professional conduct of lawyers, commended the NBA President, Yakubu Maikyau, and his leadership for the initiative in discussing pertinent matters.
The session focused on the new NBA rules and guidelines on Anti-Money Laundering and Terrorism Financing and underlining the legal profession’s role in the fight against the vices.
According to the ICPC boss, it was inevitable that discussions on the ethical conduct of legal practitioners be brought to the table due to the perceived lack of cooperation between legal practitioners and anti-corruption agencies.
While quoting Rule 74(3) of the Rules of Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners (RPC), he stated that lawyers needed to report suspicious activities bordering on money laundering and related offences.
In his words, “If you see something, say something”.
He added that it was no longer okay for legal practitioners to disregard the source of their client’s wealth and, by extension, their legal fees.
He said further that lawyers must show care and concern when dealing with public officials and politically exposed persons, maintaining that public interest must always come first and supersede personal gain.
He also referred to Rule 60 of RPC, which empowered legal practitioners to freeze assets of persons on the United Nations (UN) watchlist.
According to him, a similar watchlist exists in Nigeria, and it remains the duty of lawyers to report their clients to the NBA anti-corruption unit, which is obliged to forward such information to law enforcement agencies.
Owasanoye implored the NBA leadership to use the internal risk assessment policy as a set of guidelines to make its own rules in determining what is ethical and what is not, stressing that any anti-corruption or anti-laundering committee must side-step the pitfall of bureaucracy to avoid complicity when a law enforcement agency moves against a client.
In his final submission, he advised members of the NBA to avoid shielding suspicious clients but rather use their disciplinary committee to work with law enforcement agencies to pursue justice.
He said, “It is time to put practicable measures in place to walk the talk”