At least 180 Bureau De Change (BDC) operators nabbed by security operatives for alleged link to terrorism financing paid N900 million in penalties before they returned to their businesses.
This comes as BDC operators and other traders rounded up by security agents in March, on suspicion of involvement in financing of terrorism have remained in detention, almost three months after their arrest.
Families and associates said the suspects are being kept incommunicado without access to their families, despite lack of judicial process.
On a few occasion recently, the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, has stated that the federal government will put in about 400 suspects on trial for financing terrorism,
“I am happy to report that arising from the wider coverage investigation that has been conducted in Nigeria, a number of people, both institutional and otherwise, were found to be culpable, I mean on reasonable grounds for suspicion of terrorism financing,” Malami had told State House correspondent last month.
Ahead of the planned trial, we gathered that agencies handling the cases have begun contacting families to nominate lawyers to stand in for their relatives.
Security agencies led a massive clamp down on some BDC operators and other businessmen who allegedly dealt with Boko Haram and other criminal groups.
The operation, which security sources say is ongoing, is being coordinated by the Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) and the Department of States Services (DSS), with financial intelligence support from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unity (NFIU).
Hundreds of suspicious bank accounts have also been frozen as part of the operation, which tracked over N300 billion, according to a security source involved in the operation.
The CBN and the NFIU, we gathered, have sent out series of “post no debit” letters to commercial banks leading to freezing of dozens of personal and corporate accounts. The apex bank has also obtained court orders directing freezing of dozens of accounts flagged for suspicious transactions.
A security source familiar with the operation confided in our reporter that the operation started last year with massive gathering and analysis of financial intelligence and drawing uplink analysis, leading to initial marking of some 60 businesses and individuals.
A source disclosed to that an initial list of 957 suspects comprising bureau de change operators, gold miners and sellers, and other businessmen is being acted upon.
Already, according to the source, over 400 persons have been arrested in a series of arrests in Kano, Borno, Abuja, Lagos, Sokoto, Adamawa, Kaduna and Zamfara.
CBN slams N900m fine on 180 BDCs
Speaking duringthe week, President of the Association of Bureaux De Change Operators of Nigeria (ABCON), Aminu Gwadabe, said each of the 180 BDC operators was made to pay N5 million penalty to CBN, amounting to N900m.
“After engaging with the CBN and appealing to them, we were able to clear about 180 of our members who were asked to pay N5 million each as penalties. They have complied and are now returned to their legitimate business,” Gwadabe said.
He said the clampdown activities are not new as “they started in 2020 as a result of the new intelligence gathering mechanisms” of the apex bank.
The association’s president said the incidents are largely due to the carelessness of its members who engage in a transaction with someone they don’t know.
“It is a KYC (Know Your Customer) issue, it is not that they are directly involved in the illicit use of foreign Exchange. Painfully, this is happening at a time that we are contending with sweeping generalisation and criminalisation of the activities of our members,” he said.
Gwadabe said the activities of his members constitute a financial subsector providing over 25,000 employments and the association is doing everything within its means to change the narrative.
Many attempts to reach the CBN’s Director of Corporate Communications, Mr. Osita Nwanisobi, to ascertain the total frozen accounts and the affected banks, were not successful.
However, a senior staff at the CBN said the information was too sensitive to divulge as the lives of even some CBN staff could be at risk.
“I can assure you that hundreds of accounts have been put on watch lists and several others are being flagged daily as the need arises. It is safe to leave it at. If you require additional information, it’s safe to speak to the security agencies in charge of the crack-down. They might help because they know how to protect themselves better,” he said.
Families cry out
Some families with relatives in detention lamented what they called slow pace of investigation, lack of transparency and excommunication of the detainees.
A woman in Gusau whose husband was arrested in mid-March, told said that she and her family are in hardship following long detention of her husband, a gold marketer.
Sani Ali, whose two brothers are in custody, said the family had been contacted to provide a lawyer to stand-in for the suspects.
He however said aside the lawyer no one was permitted to see the two brothers who are being detained in undisclosed location in Abuja.
A business partner of one of the detainees, Isiyaku Mohammed, said they were called on the phone and asked to provide legal representation for their friend in detention.
“It is still shocking to us the way they are treating these people. Why will you keep someone indefinitely if you have nothing against the person? Even if there are culpable person among them many of them are innocent but they have been traumatized and dehumanized,” he said.