Law enforcers equipped with cryptocurrency knowledge

On October 19, 2023, the Rwanda Institute of Legal Practice and Development (ILPD) successfully concluded a 3-day workshop, equipping law enforcement officers with essential insights into the world of cryptocurrency.

This transformative training event saw investigators, prosecutors, and lawyers gain vital expertise that empowers them to navigate this evolving landscape effectively.

In our rapidly changing world, technology has sparked revolutions across various sectors. Long-distance communication and contactless payments through mobile money are among the transformative innovations that have reshaped our lives. However, an even more disruptive force has emerged in the form of digital currency, commonly known as cryptocurrency, which presents unique challenges due to its inherent complexities.

Cryptocurrency, a digital form of money, comprises numerous decentralized types that are notoriously challenging to regulate. Economic and legal experts emphasize its defining characteristic: anonymity. Central banks and other traditional financial regulators find it difficult to exert control over these digital assets. Cryptocurrency transactions take place through encrypted "wallets," creating opportunities for individuals with illicit intent to exploit its untraceable nature.

Mercy Buku, a member of the training team, highlights the dark side of cryptocurrency. It has become a preferred channel for criminals engaging in illegal activities such as drug trafficking, human trafficking, and terrorist financing. Buku underscores the absence of legal recognition for cryptocurrency in most African countries, a regulatory void that poses significant security concerns.

He emphasizes the urgent need for law enforcement to understand and be vigilant about this underground economy. Buku argues that the rise of cryptocurrency-related crimes poses a threat to public safety, making it imperative for law enforcement to be well-informed and equipped to combat these illicit activities.

Buku contends that, while cryptocurrency remains unregulated, it exists in the shadows, and law enforcement should proactively address the challenges it presents, even without specific legal frameworks in place.

"Criminals take advantage of it and engage in criminal activities that can disturb security. It is appropriate for law enforcers to understand these activities and be capable of pursuing those responsible," he adds.

"Cryptocurrency would not be problematic if managed properly. We initially faced similar issues with the Mobile Money market, but with stringent regulations and effective control mechanisms, it has become a reliable and popular payment method. Therefore, vigilance and caution are paramount," Buku concludes.

Claudine Dushimimana, a National Prosecutor who participated in the training, stresses the significance of this knowledge for future challenges. Dushimimana acknowledges that Rwanda currently lacks regulatory approval for cryptocurrency but remains open to addressing related issues should they arise.

"While we may not have governing laws in place yet, the trajectory of global progress is clear. It is essential for people to be well-informed about cryptocurrency," she affirms.

Dushimimana emphasizes that cryptocurrency itself is not inherently problematic. The concern lies in the platform it provides for criminals to commit offenses, warranting heightened attention from law enforcement.

Dushimimana also notes that conventional financial accounts reveal comprehensive information about their owners, facilitating inquiries into the sources of wealth. In contrast, cryptocurrency wallets obscure the identities of their users. However, she expresses confidence that, although challenging, methods exist to identify criminals concealing their activities within this digital realm.

This comprehensive 3-day training, attended by approximately 43 individuals, was organized by the Attorney General Alliance-Africa (AGA-Africa) in collaboration with ILPD.

It represents a crucial step towards equipping law enforcement with the tools and knowledge required to address the evolving challenges presented by cryptocurrency.