Scrap proposed Finance Bill, Ojienda tells Parliament

In Summary

• Lawyer Tom Ojienda wants a section of the Finance Bill, 2019 that requires lawyers to start reporting details of client transactions to the Financial Reporting Centre scrapped.

• Says if passed in its current state, lawyers will compelled to witness against their clients or be treated as accomplices.

Senior Counsel Tom Ojienda at the Milimani Courts on December 31, 2018. /COLLINS KWEYU
Senior Counsel Tom Ojienda at the Milimani Courts on December 31, 2018. /COLLINS KWEYU

Lawyer Tom Ojienda wants a section of the Finance Bill, 2019 that requires lawyers to start reporting details of client transactions to the Financial Reporting Centre scrapped.

In a letter to the National Assembly and the Senate, the advocate argues the proposed amendments to Sections two and 48 of Proceeds of Crime and Anti-money Laundering Act, 2009 contained in Sections 48 and 49 of the Finance Bill, 2019 affects the practice of law and traditional role of lawyers within the society.

The Bill published last week, seeks to designate lawyers, notaries and other independent legal professions amongst reporting entities to whom the anti-money laundering and combating financing of terrorism rules shall apply.

If passed in its current state, lawyers will be compelled to witness against their clients or be treated as accomplices in suspected money laundering and other proceeds of crime cases.

‘’The proposed law threaten to obliterate the Advocates Act, Chapter 16 of Laws of Kenya and pose a real threat to the very existence of the legal profession,’’ Ojienda said.

Currently lawyers are protected from disclosing details of transactions or even money held on behalf of their clients, an avenue the corrupt and movers of illicit money are said to exploit.

The government and bankers have been pushing for the enactment of the law, with a recent report by The Financial Reporting Centre (FRC) and Kenya Bankers Association (KBA) citing law firms as a new money laundering front.

They called for a review of the law to require non-financial firms to start reporting suspicious dealings and transactions from Sh1 million.

The Proceeds of Crime and Anti-Money Laundering Act (Procamla) requires requires financial institutions to report any suspicious or unusual transaction to the FRC to identify and combat money laundering and financing of terrorism.

Th act first enacted in 2009, has been amended three times (2013, 2015 and 2017) to address the changing dynamics. Proposed changes as enshrined in the Finance Bill, 2019 will be attempting to change it for the fourth time.

Ojienda however argues that investigative role lies squarely with the police and not lawyers as the proposed law insinuates.