The Nigeria/UK cooperation on looted funds
The plan by the British authorities to expose corrupt Nigerians who invested looted public funds in property in the United Kingdom (UK) is welcome. Already, a criminal finances bill entitled “Unexplained Wealth Orders” is already under way in that country. According to reports, it is designed to close the loophole which has left the authorities powerless to seize property from overseas criminals, except such individuals are convicted in their country of origin.
Under the proposed law, property suspected to belong to corrupt politicians, tax evaders and criminals could be seized by British law enforcement agencies. It is targeted at making London unsafe for looted funds. The Executive Secretary, Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, Prof. Bolaji Owosanoye, disclosed that the UK government will give the Federal Government information about corrupt Nigerians who own property in that country, as from next year.
These will include all the houses that were bought by public officials or accounts that are held by public officials on which they are right now not paying taxes or which they cannot explain the sources. The development came on the heels of negotiations between Nigeria and British authorities during the Commonwealth Anti-Corruption Summit in London in 2016.
We recall that at the London summit, world leaders agreed to expose, punish and drive away corruption wherever it exists. The British Government also came up with measures to prevent corrupt individuals from hiding stolen money in the UK. Owosanoye also pointed out that the measure being taken by the government is a step forward in the fight against corruption. He is of the view that the proposed “Unexplained Wealth Orders” bill which would hopefully pass through the legal process this year, will help deepen the conversation in this regard and aid the quick recovery of illegally-acquired assets.
He stressed that with the “Unexplained Wealth Orders”, the Serious Fraud Office, HM Revenue and Customs, and other agencies will be able to apply to the High Court for an order forcing the owner of an asset to explain how he/she obtained the funds to acquire it. The orders, he explains, will apply to property and other assets worth more than 100,000 pounds, adding that the targets of the law are not only criminals, but also politicians and public officials, known as “politically exposed persons.”
We commend the Federal Government and the British authorities for this initiative aimed at exposing properties acquired with proceeds of corruption and questionable funds lodged in UK financial institutions by corrupt Nigerian officials. We believe that exposing this category of Nigerians who stashed ill-gotten wealth in properties in the UK is a bold step in the battle against graft. The earlier these corrupt Nigerians are exposed the better for the country and its anti-graft war. This cooperation between the Federal Government and Britain should be encouraged and strengthened.
Since corrupt Nigerians might also own properties in places other than UK, we urge the Nigerian government to extend this initiative to other countries in Europe, America and Asia, where corrupt Nigerians may also own property. Exposing corrupt Nigerians who have acquired property with their looted funds abroad will invigorate the anti-corruption war and deter other Nigerians from emulating them.
We implore the UK government to expedite action on this matter. We are not unmindful of the legal issues that this might involve, but we believe that if the bill is quickly passed into law by parliament, its enforcement could start earlier than scheduled. The earlier this is done the better for Nigeria and its quest to recover stolen public funds. Let the government work assiduously with the UK to ensure that this initiative sees the light of the day.
This, indeed, is the type of approach government can use to recover our stolen funds from wherever they might have been stashed in the world, especially now that the economy is in bad shape. Let government be steadfast in its pursuit of this initiative, to strengthen the ongoing war against corruption in the country.
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