Pass Proceeds of Crime Act Quickly, ANEEJ Urges Buhari, N’Assembly

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Abimbola Akosile

The Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ) has urged President Muhammadu Buhari and the National Assembly to quickly pass the Proceeds of Crime Act.

In a statement presented on behalf of civil society organisations at the first-ever Global Forum on Asset Recovery (GFAR) held recently in Washington DC, USA, the Executive Director of ANEEJ, Rev David Ugolor urged the federal government of Nigeria to pursue, without further delay, the quick passage of the Proceeds of Crime Act besides providing effective resources for the government’s new Asset Recovery and Management Unit.

The global anti-corruption campaigner also advised the federal government to create a single national body that would be responsible for delivering its National Anti-Corruption Strategy in addition to strengthening the autonomy of the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU).

Ugolor flayed the absence of reliable national data on asset recovery as a failure of accountability and urged countries at the GFAR summit to commit to providing transparent, comprehensive and public asset recovery data, including number of cases being pursued, number of assets frozen, sanctions taken against financial facilitators and length of time taken to respond to requests for assistance.

On the issue of Beneficial Ownership, he particularly called on the Governments of the USA and the United Kingdom to immediately legislate for a transparent and open register, which information should be readily available to overseas offices, territories and dependants.

“On behalf of civil society organisations present at this first ever Global Forum on Asset Recovery, we are presenting this civil society statement. We thank the co-hosts the US and UK, and the organisers, the Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative for inviting us to this forum. We welcome the participation of our governments from Sri Lanka, Tunisia, Nigeria and Ukraine.

“We, civil society organisations from these focal countries, and international CSOs urge all governments to take concrete measures to address the underlying causes of asset theft. The ease with which stolen money can be spirited away into the international financial system must be addressed. We urge all countries that are attractive destinations for corrupt wealth to take immediate steps to close down the secrecy loopholes in their jurisdictions and ensure that facilitators of corrupt wealth are prosecuted and sanctioned.

“In particular, we call on the US to adopt public and robustly verified Beneficial Ownership registers for companies, trusts and property and to introduce and proactively enforce legal requirements to conduct proper customer due diligence. We urge the UK to ensure that Beneficial Ownership information is readily available from its overseas territories and crown dependencies; that the Beneficial Ownership property register is swiftly legislated for and that professional enablers who facilitate the laundering of corrupt wealth are prosecuted and sanctioned,” Ugolor urged.

Approximately 30 CSOs’ representatives participated in the Global Forum on Asset Recovery with most coming from four focal countries of Nigeria, Tunisia, Sri Lanka and Ukraine as well as a few representatives of international civil society groups.
Participants at the forum lauded GFAR and applauded Switzerland’s return of assets to Nigeria with a landmark proposal for civil society involvement in monitoring the funds returned.

“We believe that the GFAR has been an important means of generating political will to push the asset recovery agenda forward. The signing of the MoU between Switzerland and Nigeria to return $321 million stolen by former dictator, Sani Abacha, is a good example of this. We believe that States must take the opportunity of GFAR to make tangible and measurable commitments on improving asset recovery and report within a year on how they have met those commitments,” Ugolor stated.

“They must be open about the obstacles they encountered during GFAR on specific cases. And lessons must be learned for future forums.”

“Civil society organisations have a key role to play in exposing corruption and identifying evidence that can lead to the tracing and recovery of stolen assets. States cannot be successful in tracking down stolen assets on their own. Collective action and genuine partnership with non-state actors is needed.

“We urge those countries present at GFAR to commit to protecting the legislative and political space for CSOs working in this area; to engage CSOs in a regular and meaningful way on asset recovery issues; and to look at ways to ensure that CSOs can bring public interest claims to help recover the proceeds of corruption,” Ugolor added.
In eight country studies, CSOs found that relevant information on asset recovery and proceeds of crime was unavailable. In Ukraine, for example, court decisions classify confiscation of proceeds of corruption as state secrets.