March 7, 2018 / 4:02 PM / 9 months ago

Nigeria's parliament passes anti-money laundering law

FILE PHOTO: Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari addresses the 72nd United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., September 19, 2017. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton/File Photo

ABUJA (Reuters) - Nigeria’s parliament passed legislation on Wednesday meant to help authorities tackle money laundering and funding for terrorism by allowing its financial intelligence unit to operate free of state control.

The move is aimed at removing bureaucracy impeding investigations of financial crime and was taken under international pressure on Nigeria to crack down on endemic corruption afflicting the economy and law enforcement.

Nigeria’s upper legislative house, the Senate, adopted the bill on Wednesday, completing its passage through parliament after the lower house’s approval on Tuesday. President Muhammadu Buhari would need to sign the legislation for it to come into force, but is expected to do so.

The new law makes the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit an independent body able to share information with counterparts abroad. Until now, the agency has operated under Nigeria’s state Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.

Parliament acted after the Egmont Group, a body of 155 Financial Intelligence Units worldwide, threatened to delist Nigeria unless its own unit gained autonomy, enabling it to deal with financial crimes more effectively.

The Egmont Group insisted that failure to make Nigeria’s unit legally independent would have subjected financial transactions from Nigeria, including funds transfers and credit cards, to special controls, banking sources said. This could mean a refusal to process tens of thousands of payments.

Banking transactions above a stipulated threshold are automatically sent to the Financial Intelligence Unit.

Nigeria suffers from rampant graft and is fighting Boko Haram militants in the northeast, who have killed more than 20,000 people since 2009 and displaced two million others in an insurgency aimed at creating an Islamic state.

Last week the U.S. Treasury Department added two individuals and seven organisations in Africa and Asia connected to Islamic State to its sanctions list for global terrorism.

Reporting by Camillus Eboh; Writing by Paul Carsten; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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