President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Paul Usoro, SAN, has said that the worst thing that can be done to a lawyer is disbarment and that’s the sanction lawyers dread the most.

The Learned Silk made this statement while speaking on, “The Legal Profession and the Implementation of AML/CFT requirements: Perspectives of GIABA Member States”, which was delivered on the 11th day of February, 2020.

According to him, most lawyers in Nigeria are far removed from money laundering and/or financing of terrorism activities. He noted that lawyers are exempt from reporting obligations under MLA, but that lawyers are exempt from reporting obligations does not, howsoever, create a hole in the enforcement of MLA.

“There are sufficient provisions in the law to enable law enforcement agencies do the work, if they are conscientious and diligent, without requiring any input from lawyers. Exemption from reporting obligations does not Exempt lawyers from general obligations under MLA – criminal is a criminal, whether a lawyer or not,” he noted.

Speaking on the self-regulatory role of Bar Associations NBA Disciplinary Process, LPDC, he stated that Architecture Reports are made to NBA by any aggrieved person against legal practitioners; that law enforcement agencies can make such reports. He emphasized that the Nigerian Police Force do, but  EFCC and NFIU have never done so.

Speaking on the procedure, he said that NBA processes the complaints and if there is a prima facie case for the legal practitioner to answer, the matter is passed on to LPDC.

“Basis for complaints are usually infamous conduct or conduct not compatible with the status of a legal practitioner or against the Rules of Professional Conduct as published by HAGF pursuant to LPA guides, conduct of lawyers. LPDC is made up of panel – SANs and Judges. Appeals from LPDC go to Supreme Court. No Supreme Court Justices sits on LPDC.Sanctions range from suspension for a period to disbarment. Worst thing you can do to a lawyer is disbarment and that’s the sanction lawyers dread  the most,” he said.

On the Role of Law Enforcement Agents, he noted that ML and Terrorism Financing involve movement of money generally – whether cash or financial instruments. He noted that Real estate involves movement of cash and financial instruments. Operation of nominee companies for money laundering purposes; and it also involves movement of cash and financial instruments. According to him, there are enough Nigerian laws and regulations to enable law enforcement agencies follow the trail of money and detect criminal conducts if diligence living cannot afford to pay those punitive charges.

“The Entire essence is to ensure that movement of cash is entirely limited to the ecosystem of financial institutions. Very strict and stringent reporting obligations are placed on financial institutions. What all of these translate into is full visibility of the financial ecosystem by

law enforcement agencies, sufficient for them to detect suspicious transactions, if diligence is applied.

“There is difference between representing client who’s allegedly involved in illegal or fraudulent conduct and counseling or assisting “client in conduct that the lawyer knows to be illegal or fraudulent”. If a lawyer actively and knowingly takes on the role of assisting his client in money laundering or terrorism financing (e.g. nominee director or real estate agent) or any other criminal conduct, he becomes an accessory or an accomplice to a crime. This is totally different from representing drug baron in a court case or even unknowingly representing the drug baron in real estate or such other or any other transactions,” he said.

He also added among other things that the demonization of lawyers and adversarial relationships must stop and be replaced with and by collaborative endeavors.

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