Sunday, April 17, 2016

Nigeria and the Panama Papers Fallout
By Daily Trust
Apr 13 2016 5:00AM

Not a few feathers in many countries were ruffled recently by a massive leak to the press of millions of documents containing information which suggests secret and unlawful business transactions by highly placed public figures. The documents were leaked from the computer records of the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca. This firm has been involved over the years in conducting proxy financial services for hundreds of thousands of companies often referred to as shell companies, and owned by the high and mighty across the world. The shell companies are usually operated outside the shores of the owners’ countries, where they facilitate the concealment of business transactions of such owners from the laws of their respective countries.

It is generally believed that business operations through shell companies are associated with intention of the owners to engage in clandestine activities including tax evasion, money laundering and concealment of stolen funds in offshore safe havens.  Specifically featuring in the Mossack Fonseca affair are monarchs, presidents, prime ministers and a long list of other national leaders hailing from virtually all corners of the globe, including Nigeria. For Nigeria, the situation offers significant implications with respect to the specific provisions of the country’s laws which prohibit public officers from maintaining foreign businesses and bank accounts while in public service. Indeed the country’s laws demand that on assumption of office, every public officer shall declare whatever interest he or she has in any foreign business and formally disengage from such, throughout the service tenure.

Incidentally, listed among the clients of Mossack Fonseca are several Nigerian public figures whose association with the firm lasted even during their tenures in public office, and in clear breach of the extant law. While the use of the firm or any other proxy organization to transact foreign business may not be intrinsically wrong, the violation of extant laws in that regard by such Nigerian citizens, no matter how highly placed, demands appropriate response from the law enforcement agencies, especially the anti-graft organisations such as Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Independent Corrupt Practices and Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB).

The disclosure is a serious concern in Nigeria given the mind boggling scope of looting of public funds by generations of unscrupulous occupants of public office, who spared no effort in ensuring that they stripped the country bare of her fortunes. Given the antecedents of Mossack Fonseca, it remains a prime destination for such looters and their ill-gotten wealth. The Nigerian public expects relevant agencies to seize this opportunity offered by the Panama Papers to maximum advantage. It is of particular interest to the Nigerian public to know if the funds associated with the implicated public officials are traceable to the public till. It is not out of place for the anti-graft and security agencies to borrow a leaf from the situation in other countries where the Panama Papers have stirred up relevant agencies and members of the public in arms, pursuant to sanctioning implicated public officers.

Since the advent of the present administration, President Muhammadu Buhari has on several
occasions expressed his resolve to track looted public funds and the looters, and has embarked on foreign missions to promote that resolve.  The Panama papers provide a most auspicious opportunity for him to be definitive in the anti-corruption crusade by ensuring a clinical treatment of the matter, and assuring Nigerians of his capacity and resolve to protect the public weal.

Of importance in the expected response from the security and anti-graft agencies should be the issue of tax evasion which, lamentably has suffered criminal neglect from our authorities over the years.

Money laundering is the other area of serious concern for us. Also of critical significance is the need to revisit the country’s investment laws with a view to plugging loopholes that may not have been apparent in the past but have been highlighted by the Panama Papers’ disclosure.


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