New committee to combat currency trading on the black market

Gemechu Weyuma, Financial Intelligence Centre Director General
Gemechu Weyuma, Financial Intelligence Centre Director General

The government formed a special committee under the Prime Minister’s Office to combat the currency trading on the black market and outflow of hard currency from the country.

The Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC), which is the monetary intelligence unit established under the ‘Prevention and Suppression of Money Laundering and Financing of Terrorism’ proclamation conducted a study about illegal money transfer which is considered to be the major activity on the black market.

Beside illegal transfers, expats who receive their salary in hard currency and foreigners who come for conferences are the other sources of the black market currency. “The money transfer is mainly related to illegal immigrants, while illegal actors are lobbying foreigners to exchange their money on the illegal market,” the FIC study identified.

“The major source of illegal money transfer is the illegal immigrants who cannot send their money via banks. We will work with Ministry of Social Affairs to solve it in collaboration,” the FIC Director General, Gemechu Weyuma said.

“We have identified the source of the problem and will provide a solution to tackle the illegal transfer of money. The problem will be solved when it becomes practical,” Gemechu Weyuma, who replaced Alemseged Assefa, the first head of the centre, five years ago, told Capital.

The committee, established on Monday January 2 will follow seriously the illegal hard currency market, according to Gemechu.

He said that the committee will combat the illegal outflow of the hard currency from the country.

Drivers, brokers and others are involved in the illegal money flight, and border areas are the major smuggling centers for the illegal outflow of money.

“The committee will identify the gap in the law and the system to solve the problem. I believe the committee will solve it soon,” the director general said.

FIC, National Bank of Ethiopia (NBE), Federal Police Commission, Ethiopian Revenue and Customs Authority (ERCA), the PM Office, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and others stakeholders in the issue have been included in the committee.

The illegal money market is the major source of hard currency in the economy. Studies indicate that the illegal hard currency market is one of the sources of money for imports. To solve the under invoice and other tax problems ERCA, NBE and the Ministry of Trade are in the process of forming a joint taskforce to crosscheck the actual approved letter of credit (LC) and the value of import items.

Gemechu said that the relevant government offices and financial institutions have to work jointly to solve the problem that will directly tackle the black market activity.

Gemechu further said that that the major problem with money laundering is illegal money transactions but that should be addressed as soon as possible. The other problems that the centre observed with regard to money laundering are tax evasion, fraud and cheating.

The FIC study recommended that improving the legal exchange rate or making it equivalent to the black market rate is a major step to alleviate illegal activity.

In the past few months the exchange rate between the black market and the bank has been very different.

Currently one USD is sold up to 27 birr on the black market, while the real exchange rate is less than 20 percent of that at the bank. On Friday January 5 one dollar was sold at 22.4 birr.

Experts said that the high difference between the legal and black market had never been seen before. The biggest exchange rate gap was previously ten percent.