News Analysis: Mobile money on spot as Kenya links service to terrorism funding

Source: Xinhua| 2019-01-30 21:32:08|Editor: ZX
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NAIROBI, Jan. 30 (Xinhua) -- Mobile money agents in Kenya have become cautious as the police investigate a link between use of the service and terror activities in the East African nation.

Ongoing investigations into the recent terror attack in Kenya's capital Nairobi, where 21 people were killed and several others injured by terrorists allied to Somali group al-Shabab, have placed mobile money at the heart of the terror financing.

Documents filed in Kenyan court by the Anti-Terrorism Police Unit in ongoing prosecution of suspects linked to the attack showed that one of them transacted at least 100 million Kenyan shillings (1 million U.S. dollars) via mobile money in few months.

Another suspect received over 90,000 dollars via mobile from South Africa months before the terror attack and channeled it to terror suspects through 47 SIM cards.

It is a complex network that has baffled investigators as they work overdrive to unravel the local and cross-border terror financing network via mobile money.

Ordinary Kenyans are, equally, surprised of how the much-loved platform that is ubiquitous in their lives is used in financing criminal activities by terrorists, with the discussion hogging the spotlight on social media platforms.

At the center of it all, however, are mobile money agents spread across the East African nation who offer the popular service to the public.

The agents are crucial in the enlisting of subscribers to the service, sale and SIM card registrations and withdrawals and cash deposits, with the terrorists said to have utilized laxity among them to conduct their business.

Among the dozens of suspects who have been charged in court are mobile money agents who investigators have said facilitated SIM cards and mobile money registrations and bulk withdrawals by the terror suspects.

"I have become afraid because the person one is innocently serving could be a terrorist. It is now obvious that your best customer, the person who transacts in bulk and does not go anywhere else could be a terrorist financier or recipient of money to organize terror activities," Anne Mulwa, a mobile money agent in Nairobi, said on Wednesday.

Initially, Mulwa did not mind allowing customers to carry out mobile money transactions without their national identity cards.

But since investigations began into the terror attack, she has become vigilant, demanding customers carrying out any transaction, be it SIM card registration, withdrawals or depositing of money, to produce the national identity card.

As many other agents, she has printed a notice in bold warning customers that no transactions would be carried out without the identity card.

"The card is now the first thing I am demanding before a customer withdraws or deposits money because it will tell me if he is the one making the transaction," said Moses Ngunjiri, a mobile money agent in eastern Nairobi.

"A day ago I had to reverse a transaction because the customer had no identity card. That is my little contribution to enhancing vigilance," said Ngunjiri.

Kenyans transacted 39.4 billion dollars in 2018 via mobile money, according to the Central Bank of Kenya, up from 36 billion dollars in 2017.

This translated to 36 million dollars a month, or 1.2 million dollars a day, transacted by the 47 million subscribers.

The huge volumes, which are moved unregulated even from across the border, according to analysts, are what have made terrorists find the service a perfect platform to move cash.

Bernard Mwaso, a consultant with Edell IT Solution in Nairobi, noted that criminals are easily moving cash or fundraising using mobile money because it is less regulated.

"Unlike banks where one cannot transact 10,000 dollars without going through the central bank, with mobile money, you can deposit or move huge sums of money using multiple SIM cards and at various agents undetected. It is time the service is strictly regulated as its links to terrorism emergence," he said.

The Central Bank of Kenya in a report last year warned that mobile money was predisposing the economy to risks that include money laundering and terrorist financing.

Similarly, the United States' Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs in a recent report warned that Kenya's and Somalia's money remittance services were at risk of financing terror due to deficiencies in controlling the flow of funds.