Panama Papers: Adopt More Robust, Proactive Approach to Revelations, FG Urged

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Abimbola Akosile

The Federal Government has been urged to adopt a more robust, comprehensive and proactive response to revelations coming from the recent leaks of documents belonging to Mossack Fonseca, now simply referred to as the Panama Papers.

Relevant agencies of government were also urged to undertake a thorough study of the Panama Papers to identify all Nigerians involved, conduct additional investigations to determine the extent of illegality and criminality involved, apply the full weight of the law on anyone found culpable and work in collaboration with their counterparts in the relevant countries, work to recover whatever is due to the nation for use in national development.

The calls were made by the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, (CISLAC), a National Contact for Transparency International in Nigeria, and the Zero Corruption Coalition (ZCC), a coalition of over one hundred CSOs and numbers of individuals committed to the fight against corruption.

The calls were contained in two different statements issued in Abuja by the CISLAC/Transparency International (Nigeria National Contact) and Chair Steering Committee Zero Corruption Coalition, Mr. Auwal Ibrahim Musa (Rafsanjani) and Programme Officer, ZCC, Mr. Lukman Adefolahan.

According to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) report, about 140 politicians and public officials, including 12 current and former world leaders have used more than 214,000 offshore entities to hide the ownership of their assets.

The two organisations (CISLAC and ZCC) also expressed worry at the rising profile of official corruption involving Nigerian political elites.

They also called on the National Assembly to also mandate its relevant committees to study the Panama Papers and determine the extent to which the legislature either through improved laws or better oversight can contribute to the prevention of such illicit activities.

“The systematic system failure has its root in the manifestation of corruption at all level which undermines development and promotes insecurity and poverty in our country. Nigeria accounted for more than 30 per cent of all illegal financial transactions in Africa from 2002 to 2012”, they noted.

“The revelations listed the names of serving Senators and their relations and other prominent Nigerians as having utilised the services of companies in Tax Havens and secrecy jurisdictions to hide assets and stow away wealth which sources are questionable and ownership suspicious.

“Tax Havens are known to provide politically exposed persons, corporate organisations and high-net worth individuals with the needed secrecy to stash away proceeds of crime, corruption and tax evasion, thereby facilitating illicit financial flows and depriving countries of much needed resources to finance development”, the statements added.

“We are aware that these processes (additional investigations) require time, determination and resources as demonstrated by the experiences of repatriating looted funds and bringing some suspects to trial in the face of glaring corruption and recovering funds held in foreign accounts but we urge them to be undaunted. We urge the Federal Government to, in addition to these, address the fundamental issues of secrecy as it relates to our institutions, by taking steps, which are directly under her control.

“It is possible for transactions and investments to be carried out by proxy using faceless Board Members, Directors and Shareholders who are able to move funds through a network of financial institutions. This is at the root of these forms of corruption and fraud, much of which is also perpetrated within our shores”, Rafsanjani and Adefolahan noted.

They renewed their call for mandatory disclosure of beneficial owners of both local and foreign companies operating in every sector the Nigerian economy.

The federal government was urged to establish a Registry of all companies with the full disclosure of beneficial owners wherever located and made available for the public to access as a means of preventing financial secrecy.
“Full disclosure of beneficial owners should also become a mandatory requirement for any firm bidding for contracts in government procurement processes. These will empower journalists, civil society and citizens to compliment the work of anti-corruption agencies through whistle-blowing” they added.

“Tax Havens and their ignoble role in international trade and investment have been with us for a long time. It required a leak of only a few names by one law firm to show the complexities of the transactions involving Trusts and Shell Companies. We need a more robust national and international response of legislative and policy frameworks and international collaboration to prevent, detect, and sanction these actions in the future.”

They called on the federal government to ensure that Nigeria as a major victim of Illicit Financial Flows (IFFs) on the continent plays a leading role and to ensure that Africa’s position is loudly expressed and incorporated into on-going global efforts to curb illicit flows and confront the activities of Tax havens.

The civil society was urged not to relent in advocacy and campaigns to ensure that beneficial ownership and other sunshine efforts that make it possible to know who has access to the commonwealth are open to public knowledge.
The media was enjoined to intensify the acquisition of skills for investigative journalism and all professional bodies, especially Lawyers, Accountants, Real Property Developers, Estate Valuers and Bankers to join in the campaign and demonstrate patriotism by adopting policies that ensure that their members do not collaborate with prospective clients to facilitate such.