Punch Newspaper - The Senate has begun an investigation into alleged foreign exchange racketeering by commercial banks and importers.
The upper chamber of the National Assembly alleged that Nigeria had lost over N30tn to the alleged forex diversion between 2006 and 2017.
The Senate Committee on Customs, Excise and Tariff, on Wednesday, met with commercial banks in the country, asking them to furnish it with evidence that forex, released by the Central Bank of Nigeria to the importers through the banks, was utilised as documented.
The panel, which provided documents of transactions within the years under review to representatives of the banks, asked the financial institutions to furnish it with the evidence of proper utilisation of the forex releases within three weeks.
The Chairman of the committee, Senator Hope Uzodinma, while briefing journalists after the meeting, said the Senate mandated the panel to “investigate and identify areas of revenue leakages in the entire import and export circle.”
He alleged that “all” banks in the country were suspected to have been responsible for the revenue loss.
The lawmaker added that the matter would be referred to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and security agencies at a certain level of the probe.
“In the course of the investigation, issues that border on financial crimes will be sent to the EFCC; the ones that are internal security issues will be sent to the various agencies. Government is one, whether you are in the executive or the National Assembly,” he said.
Uzodinma stated that the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Mr. Godwin Emefiele; Minister of Finance, Mrs. Kemi Adeosun; and Minister of Budget and National Planning, Senator Udo Udoma, would also be invited by the committee.
Uzodinma said, “The committee started investigation and took time to enter into the import and export value share and we have been able to identify, supposedly, areas of leakages and malpractices ranging from unutilised, abandoned and partially utilised ‘Form M’; abandoned assessment of Customs duties and foreign exchange allocation manipulation.
“We have been able to also go into the database of the operating system of the Nigeria Customs Service, otherwise called ASYCUDA, and we identified Form M by Form M, import by import, vessel by vessel, liabilities of importers and commercial banks that have yet to be handled.
“We are talking about monies in a region of over N30tn and we have been able to give all this information to the commercial banks, who purchased the foreign exchange on behalf of the importers, to go home and come back with evidence of utilisation of the forex, failure which they will be compelled to refund those foreign currencies they bought from the Central Bank of Nigeria or interbank, supposedly to be used for imports.”
Uzodinma added, “What we are saying in essence is that the amount of foreign exchange the government is giving out to commercial banks and importers for the purpose of importation is not fully or not utilised as agreed.
“In essence, it is making foreign exchange scarce in the market; making the foreign exchange that the government is conceding to importers, not to be directed into activities of importation.
“We don’t see this as a healthy development because, in the process, so many companies are now ‘round tripping’, sending monies they don’t deserve out of this country without due process. This is what we are out to resolve.”
The Senator pointed out that after the conclusion of the probe by the panel, “I can tell you that the exchange rate will come down drastically. Only genuine importers will then enjoy government’s forex allocation.”
When asked if the banks were accomplices in the forex racketeering, Uzodinma responded, “There is no bank that is exempted; all the banks are involved – both the banks that are dead and the ones living.
“The ones that are no more operating were acquired by some banks. So, the activities of those that are no longer in operation, we have been able to tie them (activities) to those that acquired them (banks) as part of the liabilities.”
Uzodinma was also asked why the panel was focusing mainly on banks.
He said, “The foreign exchange utilisation manual prepared by the Central Bank of Nigeria as a regulation guiding import and export has entrusted with commercial banks this quantum of responsibilities because they purchase this money (forex) on behalf of the importers. Under the agency statute, once you are acting on behalf of somebody, the offence or the inaction of that person is your inaction.
When asked about the role, of the ministers and the Nigerian Shippers Council in the scam, Uzodinma said the panel met with shipping companies on Tuesday, where “the infractions caused by the shipping companies themselves” were identified.
He added that the council, as the regulatory body, had been notified and was billed to respond to the panel’s queries in two weeks.