President Buhari speaking to the nation
In a series of publications by PREMIUM TIMES as part of the Pandora Papers project, some former and current Nigerian public office holders were exposed as having secret and suspicious assets kept away in tax havens.
The exposé triggered calls in Nigeria for further investigation and prosecution of the individuals who have allegedly breached the country’s assets declaration laws and tax regulations.
But, like in the case of the previous Panama Papers which, six years ago, uncovered 110 Nigerians holding suspicious assets in tax havens, no politically exposed person (PEP) has been sanctioned or has vacated office due to the revelations.
“Despite actionable intelligence, no investigation on anti-money laundering, tax evasion and corruption followed,” Vaclav Prusa, a consultant at the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), said of the Nigerian government’s lethargic disposition towards bringing perpetrators of the Panama Papers to justice.
Mr Prusa spoke virtually at a three-day workshop for selected journalists reporting on corruption in Nigeria.
Unlike Nigeria, public officials indicted in countries like India, Canada and Iceland were either probed, relieved of their positions or resigned from office.
In April 2016, piles of documents listing persons with assets hidden in tax havens, for tax avoidance in home countries, were leaked to journalists who were part of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).
For instance, in Iceland, the outrage from protesting citizens forced their prime minister, Sigmundur Gunnlaugsson, implicated in the Panama Papers for tax evasion, to resign.
In Canada, 85 Canadians identified in the Panama Papers leak were investigated for tax evasion, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) revealed at the time.
Similarly, Armenia’s top bailiff, Mihran Poghosyan; Spain’s Minister for Industry and Tourism, Jose Manuel Soria; head of a state-owned bank in Austria, Hypo Landesbank Voralberg; and Uruguayan lawyer and member of FIFA’s ethics committee, Juan Pedro Damiani, all lost their jobs.
At the event organised by CISLAC in collaboration with the Konrad Adenauer Stiffung (Foundation) in Abuja, anti-corruption campaigners hammered on Nigeria’s weak efforts in tackling public sector corruption.
In his presentation entitled, ‘Transnational Corruption and Nigeria: Asset Recovery, Asset Declaration, Financial Readings,’ Mr Prusa said that unlike other countries, “Nigerian government has neither instituted investigations nor shown any willingness to dismiss public officers/PEPs exposed in the Panama Papers or Paradise Papers.”
The Pandora Papers are the latest in a series of mass leaks by journalists across the world; from Luxleaks (2014) to Panama Papers (2016). They were followed by the Paradise Papers (2017) and FinCEN Files (2020).
Past and current officials exposed by PREMIUM TIMES in the Pandora Papers series include former Anambra State governor, Peter Obi; acting Managing Director of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA)
, Mohammed Bello-Koko; and former minister of aviation and serving senator, Stella Oduah.
Others are Governor Abubakar Bagudu of Kebbi State, Governor Gboyega Oyetola of Osun State and Ogun State Governor Dapo Abiodu.
This newspaper also reported the offshore links of the children of former NSA Sambo Dasuki and billionaire Leno Adesanya and a retired senior judge Stella Ogene, who secretly owned an undeclared company which she hid behind to purchase a London property as a serving jurist.
Many of the cases raise issues of violations of the code of conduct for public officers relating to assets declaration and operation of foreign bank accounts and companies. They also raise issues of possible violations of tax laws, with many Nigerians and other stakeholders calling on the Nigerian authorities to investigate.
In the wake of these revelations, the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) declared its interest in investigating the allegations in a letter to PREMIUM TIMES.
The CCB is the Nigerian public agency dealing with issues of corruption, conflict of interest, and abuse of office by public servants.
In its October 12 letter to PREMIUM TIMES, the bureau acknowledged that the Pandora Papers project led by the ICIJ “has created ripples across the globe.”
The bureau then sought cooperation to facilitate its investigations and “where possible” prosecution of Nigerians involved.
In a reply, PREMIUM TIMES Editor-in-Chief, Musikilu Mojeed, welcomed the CCB’s request.
“The primary motivation for our work is to help the public obtain the information they need to ask questions and make informed decisions and for law enforcement agencies to have the leads they require for necessary actions,” Mr Mojeed said in a letter dated October 18.
President Muhammadu Buhari, in the wake of the Pandora Papers revelations, reportedly ordered the relevant agencies including the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU), and the CCB to investigate the named Nigerians suspected to have violated the law with their secret assets.
However, going by the Nigerian government’s poor record of criminal prosecution of politically exposed persons (PEP), anti-graft experts at the recent gathering in Abuja, raised the alarm on what the country stands to lose, should it fail to investigate the Pandora Papers revelations.
For instance, after the 2019 general elections, a former governor of Gombe State and serving senator, Danjuma Goje, who was standing trial over alleged embezzlement of public funds while he was governor, had his trial controversially withdrawn by the Nigerian government in 2019.
Fearing that the Nigerian government might trade off the investigation and prosecution of personalities fingered in the Pandora Papers revelations with other political interests, Mr Prusa said, “International partners will not cooperate on international asset recovery” with Nigeria.
In May this year, the Attorney-General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami, disclosed that the federal government had recovered $700 million in looted funds from foreign countries in four years.
This, he said, was made possible through “proactive and collaborative” efforts of some foreign governments. This strategy may, however, be jeopardized if Nigeria fails to prosecute suspects in the Pandora leaks.
The disclosure buttresses Mr Prusa’s position that inaction on the latest leaks concerning offshore assets of Nigerian officials would “undermine international anti-corruption investigations as sharing financial intelligence with Nigerian authorities seems to be pointless.”
Mr Prusa also said the government’s lethargy towards the Pandora Papers leaks is detrimental to the war against corruption in the home front. “If no serious investigation, convictions follow the (Pandora) leaks despite actionable intelligence, Nigeria’s government undermines her own war on corruption.”
Similarly, Sadiq Radda, Secretary of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC), said the government’s failure to act, “will send wrong signals to others to get engaged in money laundering.”
“Internationally, our image as a country is at stake; we need to do something, otherwise our foreign partners won’t take Nigeria seriously,” Mr Radda, a professor of law, explained in a telephone interview with this reporter.
Itse Sagay, PACAC chairperson, said there was nothing wrong in investing offshore, but added, “public officials who invest abroad must declare such assets as failure to do so amounts to a crime.”
Another lawyer, and member of the Lincoln’s Inn, London, Daniel Bwala, noted that fighting transnational financial crimes requires sharing of intelligence, which Nigeria cannot afford to be left out of.
Wondering why Nigeria’s anti-graft agencies were yet to take in persons who have been exposed by the Pandora Papers, Mr Bwala said, “Governments, especially in Africa are supposed to subject the Pandora Papers revelations to further investigations.”
“If there are infractions by citizens, for instance, of Nigeria, they should be prosecuted,” he said.
The Executive Director of CISLAC and Head of Transparency International in Nigeria, Auwal Rafsanjani, said “Nigeria must probe and prosecute her citizens that have been exposed in the latest leaks (Pandora Papers).”
Mr Rafsanjani noted that most of Nigeria’s stolen wealth stashed away in Europe and America could not be repatriated due to government’s lackadaisical attitude towards the prosecution of PEP in financial fraud.
“This is so because conditions for successful repatriation of Nigeria’s stolen wealth are being violated through re-looting by public officials,” he explained.
He said the uproar by civil society organisations prevented the Attorney-General of the Federation from ceding a junk of the repatriated loot to Mr Bagudu.
Debo Adeniran, the chairperson of the Centre for Anti-corruption and Open Leadership (CACOL), said Nigeria would lose “international sympathy” in tackling financial sleaze if it fails to prosecute violators of the country’s code of conduct laws as shown by the Pandora Papers exposè.
“Not prosecuting Pandora Papers fraudsters only shows that Nigeria only works to protect the elites of the country, especially its officials who engage in financial transborder crimes,” Mr Adediran said.
Government’s inaction concerning the Pandora Papers may have the same consequences that follow weak enforcement of the law against crimes in general, he said.
Mr Adeniran said, “This explains why kidnapping for ransom and killings across Nigeria have spiked
“Also, this is why Internet fraud is on the rise in Nigeria, because the youth see that public officials who steal from government treasury go scot-free.”
To avert the anticipated consequences, Mr Prusa suggested immediate policy action that must be taken.
“Investigate all PEPs named in Pandora Papers and report progress,” he said, urging the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to “investigate the compliance with ‘Know-Your-Customer’ policies by Nigerian financial institutions.”
Okon Abang of the Federal High Court in Abuja, in a recent judgement, highlighted the roles of two banks in helping a former chairperson of the defunct Pension Reform Task Team (PRTT), Abdulrasheed Maina, to steal N2 billion in pensioners’ money.
Mr Prusa went on to recommend establishment of “cooperation from jurisdictions of ‘new’ destination for Nigerian corrupt proceeds in the Middle and Far East and ‘old’ destinations (UK, USA, etc) to freeze, confiscate repatriated Nigerian assets”.
“Politicisation of the implementation of anti-money money laundering policies must stop – all PEPs disregarding political affiliation must be investigated.
“Prevent PEPs exposed in offshore business from political campaigns unless they explain their source of wealth,” he added.
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All content is Copyrighted © 2020 The Premium Times, Nigeria