In a stern warning to entrepreneurs, Nthoateng Lebona, the Principal Secretary (PS) for the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning, has raised concerns about the prevalence of money launderers disguising themselves as potential investors.
Lebona cautioned that individuals purportedly interested in investing in countries often have ulterior motives, primarily centered around money laundering.
She voiced her apprehensions during the recent Lesotho Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) investor Map validation workshop held in Maseru.
She emphasised that many of these money launderers were opportunistic, targeting nations actively seeking financial investors for economic advancement.
Furthermore, she pointed out that criminals masquerading as investors frequently preyed on individuals in need of capital to kick-start their businesses, luring them with promises of substantial financial backing.
PS stressed the urgency of the situation, revealing that the ministry is preparing to present a comprehensive report on the countryâ€™s assessment shortly.
â€œWe will be reporting to you very soon on how we have been assessed. We are in trouble as a country on the anti-money laundering aspect,â€ she said.
Lebona implored entrepreneurs to exercise caution when entertaining investment offers, particularly those originating from the Internet.
She highlighted a common tactic employed by money launderers, where they pose as investors and dangle large sums of money, contingent on the provision of a list of projects to invest in.
Lebona emphasised that falling victim to such schemes could have severe repercussions for the country, â€œpotentially leading to international blacklisting and the same issues faced by countries like Botswana and Namibiaâ€.
She urged everyone discussing investments to â€œremain vigilant about the intricacies of money launderingâ€, promising to delve deeper into the issue at an opportune moment.
According to the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU), Lesotho is currently undergoing the second round of Mutual Evaluation on Money Laundering, Terrorist Financing, and Proliferation Financing, spanning from July 2022 to September 2023.
This evaluation assesses Lesothoâ€™s compliance with international standards and the 40 Financial Action Task Force (FATF) recommendations in the fight against money laundering and related offenses.
The Money Laundering and Proceeds of Crime Act of 2008 stipulates severe penalties for offenses related to money laundering.
Section 25 (1) explicitly states that anyone involved in acquiring, possessing, using, or transferring property with the intent to conceal or disguise its illicit origin is committing an offense.
The penalties for such offenses are stringent, including imprisonment for no less than 10 years or a substantial fine, or both, depending on the severity of the case.
In the case of corporations, fines are set at a minimum of M500,000, reflecting the gravity with which the law regards money laundering activities.