Comrade Auwal Musa Rafsanjani
Comrade Auwal Musa Rafsanjani

CISLAC wants the government to prosecute defaulters in Pandora Papers

NEWS DIGEST – The Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre, CISLAC, is one of several groups mounting pressure on the Federal Government to begin investigating nationals implicated in the Pandora Papers report.

Pandora Papers is a project led by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and involves about 600 journalists across the world, including Premium Times. Its release in early October made Nigerians familiar with the clandestine dealings of sundry Nigeria elites.

Since its release, lawmakers across the world have been pushing for stringent punishments for defaulters based on questions of illicit financial flow and tax fraud.

Premium Times said 137 influential Nigerians have in the last three decades purchased at least 233 UK properties worth a combined £350 million in today’s currency exchange.

To conceal these secret dealings, Nigeria elites would make the purchase using offshore companies established in the British Virgin Islands and Panama. But a leak has allowed journalists to demystify the true identities of the owners.

It has been 4 years since the last leak, the Paradise Papers, caused the fall of several governments and criminal investigations of world leaders. CISLAC warns that the Federal Government cannot allow the Pandora Papers investigation to follow the pattern of the Paradise Papers and Panama Papers, in 2016, both of which never saw those indicted brought to account.

Already, the Federal Inland Revenue Service has announced its intention to punish persons found in the leak to have broken tax laws. In hiding some of their assets using offshore companies, the Pandora Papers defaulters had successfully cheated the country off revenues from taxable assets.

“Liability to pay in full the principal sum due, and the full penalties and interests that have arisen, as well as prosecution for tax offenses, would be enforced,” said Johannes Wojuola, spokesperson for the FIRS.

CISLAC advises the Nigerian government to digitize the assets declaration processes and grant public access to the asset declaration of public officers.

“As of now, the asset declaration administration is dysfunctional and a major enabler for corruption,” said Auwal Rafsanjani, Executive Director of CISLAC, said on Monday.

CISLAC says there is more the Federal government can do to stop future occurrences. The Nigerian government is asked to fully implement the Beneficial Ownership (BO) register to uncover the full beneficial owners of companies in the country.

“The Nigerian government must ‘live the talk’ by ensuring the beneficial ownership data is publicly accessible and must show leadership by acting on them,” Rafsanjani said.

Anti-graft agencies are encouraged to engage international counterparts to ensure that middlemen like lawyers and accountants who help to make smooth money laundering and tax evasion operations are exposed and held to account by the country’s laws.