Saturday, November 27, 2021

FIA director evades questions on alleged missing money

Financial Intelligence Agency (FIA) acting director Antoinette Kula has eluded a question on allegations of missing funds at Bank of Botswana (BoB) from Parliament’s governance and oversight committee.

Member of Parliament (MP) for Thamaga/Kumakwane Palelo Mataosane had probed Kula on whether or not it is true that funds went missing.

He also sought to know the intelligence agency was when money was taken out of BoB.

Chairman of the committee and Mochudi East MP Mabuse Pule buttressed Matoasane’s question and said, when Dr Abraham Sethibe was asked this question, it seemed as if he did not want to answer it. “Our premise was that if there had been transactions of money of that magnitude, where was FIA? Therefore, FIA should be able to tell us what is going on and where were you when all these transitions or chunk of money was taken out of BoB,” Pule said.

Kula responded by saying that FIA is not in a position to say whether it is true or not.

“This issue is under investigation and the investigative authority will the one properly placed to have a say in this,” Kula said. It was her first appearance before the governance and oversight committee since Sethibe’s resignation in April this year.

“Let me indicate that as an intelligence agency, we do not have investigative powers. We are an administrative type of intelligence agency. What we do is that we are given transactions for us to look at, and when we do so, we cannot say there is an offence that has been committed. Whatever we see as an anomaly in that transaction, we will then pass it on to the relevant investigative authority such as the Directorate on Corruption and Economic Crime or Botswana Police Services,” Kula said. She added that such organizations have the powers to investigate and can be in a position to say there is an offence here, and they open a case. “What we do is provide intelligence. I find myself in a position where I am unable to confirm or deny that the FIA did receive intelligence in that respect,” Kula said.

During the elections campaign in 2019, FIA had frozen Avante Security Services bank accounts in Botswana on suspicion that the company was used by Motsepe-Radebe to launder money for Pelonomi Venson Moitoi’s presidential campaign. This was after FIA received reports of suspicious transactions between Bridgette Motsepe Radebe’s Mmakau Mining and Avante Security Services.

MPs asked the question because allegations of the missing funds had shaken the nation, with the bank saying the claims had unfavourable effects on the country. “Strategic anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism deficiencies, corporate governance and accountability concerns in the non-bank financial sector and adverse media reports on unsubstantiated missing government funds continue to dent the integrity of financial institutions in Botswana,” said the central bank in the Financial Stability Report released late last year.

In the previous year, Sethibe, before the same committee, was cagey on the matter. “Dr Sethibe shunned us when we sought an explanation on the allegations of money laundering at BoB, and we never got an answer,” Pule said. Sethibe had been asked if it is true that there are some missing funds at BoB and whether he was privy to such an issue. The stalemate MPs were in with Sethibe descended to Kula, and Mataosane said it can’t be right that under oath, the acting director is hiding the truth without answering their question. “I don’t have confidence in any response I will get at any point in time about this matter because FIA does not want to answer our question, and this shows that something is not right. Any answer we get from now on will be scarce of truth,” said Thamaga/Kumakwane MP.

Under the National Assembly Privileges and Powers Act, there is a provision that addresses instances a witness does not want to answer a question. Legal Counsel for parliament, Kelebileng Kokoro said the provision guides the chairman of the committee, and also deputy speaker of the national assembly to take up such refusal with the speaker. Pule added that the provisions will guide the route they will take. There were no dissenters in the decision to report FIA to Phandu Skelemani, just Mataosane calling for the agency to be dissolved. The dissolution of FIA would mean MPs voting for the FIA Act to be repealed.

Members in the committee agreed to report the agency to the national assembly speaker.

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