An African Union panel on illicit financial flows has called for firm and comprehensive action against the world’s tax havens and financial secrecy jurisdictions.
The call followed the global furore in the wake of the ‘Panama Papers’ leak, involving a cache of over 11.5 million secret financial records of politicians, businessmen, celebrities, drug traffickers and sports stars from the internal database of the Panama-based law firm and offshore-provider, Mossack Fonseca.
The leaked records followed investigations led by the German newspaper, Süddeutsche Zeitung, in collaboration with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, ICIJ, consisting of over 100 media partners in 82 countries.
PREMIUM TIMES was the only Nigerian newspaper involved in the over one-year long investigation.
The Chair of the African Union Panel and former South African President, Thabo Mbeki, said the global outrage over the leak indicated the need for concerted global action to end illicit financial flows, tax havens and financial secrecy jurisdictions.
The panel had issued a report endorsed by African Heads of State and Government in January 2015, which showed that the excess of $50 billion was lost annually between 2000 and 2008 to illicit financial outflows from Africa.
Mr. Mbeki said the panel was saddened by the revelation that the Panamanian law firm had worked with more than 14,000 banks, law firms, company incorporators and other middlemen to set up companies, foundations and trusts for customers.
Describing the release of the Panama Papers as “most welcome”, Mr. Mbeki said the leaked records confirmed the findings in his panel’s report that illicit financial flows, which derive from tax evasion, deserved full attention of governments both continentally and globally.
Apart from confirming the panel’s finding of the existence of a network of offshore accounts and complex investment vehicles that drive tax avoidance and evasion, the former South African leader warned against continuing to take lightly the negative impact of such tax evasion.
“The staggering amount of illicit practices and the large number of global actors exposed by the Panama Papers demonstrate that Governments of Africa and the rest of the world cannot avoid firm action against the Tax Havens/Financial Secrecy Jurisdictions,” he said.
Mr. Mbeki said it was disheartening that the Panama Papers have revealed that the fourth most used tax haven by Mossack Fonseca was an African country.
Although Mr. Mbeki did not name the country, he said the reports showed that the law firm only knew the identities of the real owners of just 204 of 14,086 companies it incorporated in the said country.
So far, over 130 names of former and serving Nigerian officials and businessmen have been identified.
They include the President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, and his wife, Toyin; former Senate President, David Mark; a retired army general and former defence minister, Theophilus Danjuma, former Delta State governor, James Ibori; and Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote, and his oil-magnate brother, Sayyu Dantata.
Although Mr. Mbeki noted the resolve by most countries, including South Africa, Britain and France to ensure that any of their citizens mentioned in the Panama Papers were investigated by the relevant agencies, he expressed the hope that others would emulate. The Nigerian government is yet to make any statement on the Panama leaks.
“It is a decent start to the efforts required. Now all countries within and outside Africa must follow suit and begin their own investigations. These investigations should not only be limited to the findings in the Panama Papers, but should go further to uncover other possible destinations of the proceeds from tax evasion,” he said.
Despite the global outrage, which has seen many politically exposed person resigning from office, the Nigerian government is yet to issue a statement on what it intends to do with persons named in the report.
But, Mr. Mbeki said more political pressure must be put on the countries that continue to allow high level opaque financial laws that promote banking secrecy and registration of shell companies.
Top Nigerian politicians named in connection with the ‘#PanamaPapers’ leak have continued to wave off calls by concerned Nigerians and civil society groups for government to order a probe or for them to resign from office.
Mr. Saraki, the third most powerful political figure in Nigeria, who is currently facing trial before the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT, for alleged failure to declare his asset while in office as the Kwara State governor, is linked with at least four asset tucked away in secret offshore territories.
Mr. Mark is also named in connection with a least eight different companies.
Both have dismissed calls for their resignation from the National Assembly.
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