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MPs fear bills aim at muffling opposition parties

Lawmakers deliberated this week on two bills that seek to authorize the government to undertake special investigations into money laundering and terrorism financing schemes as well as asset recovery initiatives without court ordered warrants.

Provisions that would grant the Ministry of Justice the authority to conduct asset reviews and investigations using specialized methods without the prior approval of a judge are included in both the Asset Recovery and the Prevention and Suppression of Money Laundering and Financing of Terrorism draft proclamations.

The second draft proposes giving the investigating body the authority to gather evidence in the case of an emergency dependent only on the consent of the head of the chief prosecutor in the jurisdiction in question.

The asset recovery proclamation would allow the prosecutor or investigator to gather evidence using special investigative techniques without a judge’s approval, or with the permission of the Minister or a Minister’s representative.

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However, within 48 hours of beginning the evidence gathering, the prosecutor or investigator must provide the court with a written explanation for approval. After considering the request’s relevance, the court will be able to decide whether to grant or deny it.

Officials argue the law is necessary to prevent and suppress unexplained wealth and wealth transfer in the nation’s tax system, foreign currency framework, financial flow, and foreign direct investment. They also cite that the legislation is crucial to bringing Ethiopia into compliance with the requirements outlined in previously ratified international asset recovery and management agreements.

During the discussions on the money laundering and terrorism financing draft, House whip Meseret Haile stated that the existing proclamation governing the area is in need of replacement due to inadequacy in light of the latest developments in the fight against money laundering and terrorism financing. Meseret argued the legislation has gaps and unclear provisions that lead to practical issues and highlighted the need for new laws to fight the threats posed to public safety and the integrity, stability, and efficiency of the country’s financial system.

The bill would grant officials the power to conduct searches without a court warrant to obtain evidence of money laundering, financing of terrorism, or to trace the proceeds of crime. Judicial organs may authorize crime investigation authorities to monitor bank accounts and other similar accounts and access computer systems, according to the draft.

The bill would also grant the power to trace networks and servers, to place them under surveillance or to intercept communication, to take audio or video recordings or photographs of acts, behaviours, and conversations, to intercept and seize correspondence, and to conduct undercover operations and controlled delivery.

However, MPs raised the alarm over the two bills.

Desalegn Chane (PhD), a Parliamentary representative for the National Movement of Amhara (NAMA) party, opposed the bills on the grounds that the government could utilize it as a tool to persecute and intimidate dissidents and opposition figures in violation of the law’s objectives.

Desalegn went on to say that although the law could be significant once put into effect, history shows that officials have abused similar legislation in the past. He called for the integration of more oversight measures.

Another MP expressed his dissatisfaction with the law’s preparation, saying it should be drafted to avoid any ambiguity and needless attacks.

The money laundering and terrorism financing proclamation includes provisions that would oblige financial institutions to authenticate the complete name, address, ID number, date of birth, and location of origin of bank transfers. In addition, every financial institution handling or receiving a cross-border wire transfer must take reasonable steps to detect wire transactions that do not have beneficiary or originator information, according to the draft.

The bill advocates for the prosecution of any person who knows or should have known that a property is the proceeds of a crime when converting or transferring the property to conceal or disguise its illicit origins. It also proposes similar measures for any person involved in the commission of the predicate offence to evade the legal consequences of their actions.

A person who conceals or disguises the true nature, source, location, disposition, movement, or ownership of or rights concerning the property; commits an offence; and shall, without prejudice to the confiscation of the property, be punishable by up to 15 years in prison and a fine not exceeding half a million birr.

Similarly, whoever participates in the commission, conspires to commit, attempts to commit, aids, abets, facilitates, or counsels the commission of any of the elements of the offence will be punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a fine not exceeding 100,000 birr.

#Bills #Grant #Broader #Investigative #Powers #Money #Laundering #Terrorism #Financing

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