A man walked into a Swiss bank and whispered to the manager “I want to open a bank account with 2 million dollars.” The Swiss manager answered, “You can say it louder, after all, in our bank poverty is not a crime.”
As the sun set on the month of March 2015, there was cause for much reflection by the various civil servants who found themselves on the “List of Shame” that read like a who’s who in Kenya’s enterprising and highly lucrative public service. I can only imagine how many folks in the civil service girdled their loins in preparation for battle as they poured over the list with bleary eyes that were bloodshot with the previous night’s spiritual indulgence, fervent in the hope that their names didn’t appear.
Well, there were no public gasps of shock or righteous indignation; Kenyans have truly become immune to lists of shame. As a Nigerian friend recently told me, it only makes news in Nigeria when a public official has stolen over $100 million – Kshs 91 billion . Anything beneath that is deemed verily normal. However, there seemed be a lot of skepticism as to what the definition of “stepping aside” truly meant and whether it would conform to the Kenyan precedent of lying low like an envelope for three to four months followed by a quiet slinking back into office under the cover of media darkness.
Good people, we are talking about hundreds, nay, billions of shillings that have been corruptly acquired. This is not an amount that can fit into your Little Red suit pocket, or tied into the corner knot of Mama Mboga’s khanga. These funds have to be moving within and around the Kenyan banking sector. Yes, the banking sector that has remained grossly silent and unapologetically mum about the billions in liability windfalls that have dropped miraculously from the sky. Picture this scene: Mr X has been banking at Bank Y for the last 10 years. His account turnover is about an average of Kshs 250,000 on a monthly basis. The account suddenly begins receiving deposits and withdrawals ranging from Kshs 20 to 100 million, which moves his average monthly turnover to about Kshs 50 million. The Anti Money Laundering officer, usually a skinny, bespectacled recent university graduate, flags these movements to his boss the Compliance Manager. The Compliance Manager flags it to his boss, the Risk Director. The Risk Director walks over to the Retail Director and shows him the transactions as he’s a smart chap who doesn’t want to put anything in writing, just yet. The Retail Director, who is royally chuffed that his liability targets are constantly met since his team’s successful senior civil servant recruitment drive last year, rubbishes the report and dares the Risk Director to take it higher, “Weeeh, even the Managing Director knows we have these accounts, can’t you see how they are helping our deposits to grow?” The Retail Director has been considering opening a branch for High Net Worth Individuals on the 10th floor of a new building in Westlands with a dedicated high speed lift from the basement, primarily to enable senior civil servants come and go easily without being noticed.
This scene is quite likely replicated across some of Kenya’s banks today that have “flexible” anti-money laundering (AML) rules and ill defined Know Your Customer (KYC) policies. Because if you Know Your Customer as per the Central Bank of Kenya guidelines, you should know your customer’s source of funds and be in a position to flag suspicious inordinate account activity on a real time basis; technically. The Central Bank inspectors who come round every so often, should also be able to pick up on this activity since they have access to the exception reports on account turnovers; technically. But does this happen? Let’s take a look at how developed markets penalize offending banks. In July 2013, Europe’s largest bank HSBC was accused of failing to monitor more than $670 billion in wire transfers and more than $9.4 billion in purchases of US dollars from HSBC Mexico, American prosecutors said. The bank was criminally charged with failing to maintain an effective anti-money laundering program, failing to conduct due diligence amongst other charges. Bloomberg Business reported that court filings by the US government indicated that lack of proper controls allowed the Sinaloa drug cartel in Mexico and the Norte del Valle cartel in Colombia to move more than $881 million through HSBC’s American unit from 2006 to 2010. HSBC was fined over $1.8 billion in penalties as a result.
Along more familiar bank territory, Standard Chartered agreed to pay $300 million to New York’s top banking regulator for failing to improve its money laundering controls, reported the BBC in August 2014. The Bank was also banned from accepting new dollar clearing accounts without the state’s approval. The penalty arose from a clear lack of learning as the bank had its AML problems identified in 2012 which had still not been fixed by 2014. The 2012 problems had led to the bank being penalized $340 million for allegedly hiding $250 billion worth of transactions with the highly sanctioned country of Iran. The banking regulator required that an independent monitor be installed at the bank and the monitor discovered that Standard Chartered had failed to detect a large number of potentially high-risk transactions.
At the risk of sounding judgmental, it’s quite likely that the banks in Kenya operating under international jurisdictions are applying their KYC and AML screws very tightly on what are termed as Politically Exposed Persons (PEPs) for no other reason than to avoid international notoriety of “chicken-gate” proportions. Actually, the corruption proceeds are more likely to be found in some of our local banks, mingling merrily amongst the hard earned proceeds of sweat generating wananchi.
Poor senior civil servants don’t exist in Kenya. They bank alongside the wealthy, productive citizens of this beloved country. Our banking industry knows them quite well.