President Muhammadu Buhari has expressed the commitment of his administration to create a public registry of beneficial owners of companies in Nigeria.
The President’s promise followed a PREMIUM TIMES publication of the names of 106 Nigerians and firms who own companies and assets in offshore tax havens.
The revelation is part of the biggest data leak in history now known as the PanamaPapers.
The leaked database contained the internal data of Panamanian law firm, Mossack Fonseca, which was obtained by German newspaper, Süddeutsche Zeitunge, and shared by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) with PREMIUM TIMES and other media organizations around the world.
The President’s commitment alongside other far-reaching measures to combat corruption and improve transparency was contained in the country’s draft statement during the anti-corruption summit in London on Thursday.
Mr. Buhari said to enhance transparency in assets ownership, his administration would establish a public central register of beneficial owners of companies.
Suggesting that the process of creating the register was already underway, Mr. Buhari said the Money Laundering Prevention and Prohibition Bill he sent to the national assembly in February defined beneficial ownership in line with the expectations of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF).
Established in 1989, the FATF is an inter-governmental body that sets standards and promote effective implementation of legal, regulatory and operational measures for combating money laundering, terrorist financing and other related threats to the integrity of the international financial system.
“We are committed to implementing bilateral arrangements that will ensure law enforcement in one partner country has full and effective access to the beneficial ownership information of companies incorporated in the other partner country,” Mr Buhari said.
The president explained that his government had already taken steps to improve transparency in companies involved in the procurement of properties and public contracts.
“We are taking steps to ensure transparency of the ownership and control of all companies involved in property purchase and public contracting. Nigeria is already collating this information through the Extractive Industry Initiative process and would extend it to other sectors,” he wrote.
“Nigeria will establish a transparent central register of foreign companies bidding on public contracts and buying property.”
As a member of the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI), Mr Buhari said Nigeria was already allowing better disclosure of companies in the extractive sector as required by EITI.
“Nigeria is already reporting progress through the EITI working groups and will continue to work with interested countries to build a common understanding and strengthen the evidence for transparency in this area,” he said.
The President said Nigeria was committed to restricting the ability of people involved in corruption to travel and do business overseas.
He said the restrictions would be imposed when there is a conviction or publicly available information showing their involvement in grand corruption.
Mr Buhari told the audience that Nigeria was working towards strengthening its asset recovery laws.
Part of the mechanism the government is planning to introduce to buffer the recovery of assets laws include the non-conviction based confiscation and the introduction of unexplained wealth order, Mr. Buhari said.
The President also promised better and more transparent management of returned assets.
He added, “Nigeria has limited powers under the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission Act, 2000 and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission Act, 2004 to recover stolen assets. In order to improve on the current legal procedures and ease asset recovery procedures, Nigeria has drafted the Proceeds of Crime Bill. The Proceeds of Crime Bill will provide for transparent management of returned assets and non-‐conviction based approach to asset recovery.
“We commit to developing internationally endorsed guidelines for the transparent and accountable management of returned stolen assets.
“We will develop common principles governing the payment of compensation to the countries affected, (including payments from foreign bribery cases) to ensure that such payments are made safely, fairly and in a transparent manner,” he said.