Anti-laundering drive targets mobile money

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Rethabile Pitso

THE Central Bank of Lesotho (CBL) has launched a campaign aimed at curbing money laundering in conjunction with mobile money services providers and the police.

Under the campaign, which was launched in Maseru on Monday, the CBL will hold joint awareness events in collaboration with Econet Telecom Lesotho (ETL) and Vodacom Lesotho (VCL) with the input of the Lesotho Mounted Police Service (LMPS).

The two-week campaign will be held in all the country’s districts and start-off next week in Teyateyaneng. Money laundering is the generic term used to describe the process by which criminals disguise the original ownership and control of the proceeds of criminal conduct by sending it through a legitimate organisations like banks and mobile money services.

In her remarks, CBL Acting Head of National Payment Systems, Mankana Thabane, said the campaign was meant to raise awareness on the rising cases of money laundering with regards to mobile money transactions.

“Among others, the mandate of the CBL is to ensure that payment systems and any related activities are safe and efficient for subscribers,” said Ms Thabane.

“It has, therefore, come to our attention that mobile payment systems such as ETL’s Eco-Cash and VCL’s M-Pesa (VCL) are being used inappropriately by some people.”

She said the collaboration was meant to ensure money laundering did not damage reputations and the normal operations of financial and mobile money services providers.

“We decided to come together and see how best we can nip cases of money laundering in the bud because we want consumers to remain confident in making mobile transactions,” Ms Thabane said.

“We don’t want to see the image of mobile payment systems being tarnished by such illegal activities.”

She said the apex bank was also concerned by the proliferation of counterfeit notes which the campaign was also meant to educate Basotho on.

VCL Executive Head of M-Pesa Palesa Mphunyetsane echoed the sentiments, saying the public should remain vigilant to prevent money laundering.

“We have observed that a number of people have received counterfeit money through our agents, and we appeal to the public to be very vigilant when they receive cash,” she said.

“It is the responsibility of everyone to ensure that we safeguard our hard-earned money.”

Ms Mphunyetsane also distanced VCL from pyramid schemes mushrooming in the country.

“We would like to emphasize that Vodacom is not associated with any of the pyramid schemes that are in the market,” she said.

“We have observed that some pyramid schemes use our logo on their websites which is very wrong because we have no association with them whatsoever.”

On his part, ETL Chief Executive Officer, Leon de Fleuriot de la Coliniere, said the campaign was meant to urge Basotho to steer clear of pyramid schemes.

“We are aware that pyramid schemes are using various platforms in their operations including mobile money services,” he said.

“We don’t support pyramid schemes and do our utmost to disassociate ourselves from them. I think the statement ‘If it’s too good to be true, then it probably is’ should apply to any of these get-rich-quick schemes. “It should be communicated to our subscribers that quick gains are often accompanied by a lot of suffering at the end of the day.”

Mr de la Coliniere said they had an obligation to conscientise their customers about money laundering and protect them from criminals.

“As mobile money operators, it our responsibility to ensure that only clean and legitimate money goes through our systems,” he said.

“For instance, we introduced transaction limits to curb money laundering. Our agents also help us by reporting suspicious activities so that we can promptly respond and nip such activities in the bud.

“Over the course of this campaign, we will ensure that the security features on different types of currencies are communicated effectively to Basotho and those people living in rural areas.”

On behalf of LMPS, Senior Inspector–Crime Investigation Services Operations Bothata ‘Nei called for more concerted efforts to stop money launderers in their tracks.

“We have encountered many problems with the eruption of pyramid schemes which are often facilitated by monies transferred through mobile services,” he said.

“For instance, when one wishes to deposit money into a bank account, they are often asked where they got the money from. But with mobile money services, none of those questions are asked.

“So, at the end of the day, we find that most of the monies that would otherwise have been unlawfully obtained find their way into the financial sector.”

Sen Insp ‘Nei said the ease of getting sim cards was playing into the hands of money launderers.

“It is easy to obtain and register as many as 50 sim cards and continue to use those to transact money daily,” he said.

“With such a loophole, a money launderer can easily transact over M50 000 within a short period of time using a number of different sim cards. “These are only a few examples but there are many avenues which should be explored to curb money laundering.”

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