Thursday, April 7

Panama Papers: Exposed Nigerian Public Officers May Be Prosecuted

Panama Papers: Exposed Nigerian Public Officers May Be Prosecuted

Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami

The exposure of top Nigerian leaders operating foreign accounts against the dictates of the Code of Conduct guiding public offices tagged as the Panama papers could spark a prosecution exercise in Nigeria.

Nigerian public officers named in the #PanamaPapers leak could face prosecution if the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami decides to press a case, according to ThisDay.

This came as news emerged yesterday that a Swiss attorney, Enrico Monfrini, hired by the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo to track missing Abacha loot in Swiss banks is himself operating over 178 companies in offshore tax havens, a massive leak of secret documents belonging to offshore shell companies has revealed.

The leak of more than 11 million secret documents from the Panama-based law firm, Mossack Fonseca, according to an online news portal, TheCable, is causing ripples globally.

Ethical and criminal questions are being asked about the stashing away of billions of dollars in tax havens. Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, Iceland Prime Minister, has resigned over the leaks which exposed his offshore assets.

Nigerians named so far with more to come are Senate President Bukola Saraki, his predecessor David Mark, former minister of defence Theophilus Danjuma, and former governor of Delta state James Ibori.

Femi Falana said there is no protection for any Nigerian public officer, serving or retired, when it comes to offshore investments.
“It is not a crime to move your wealth to tax havens, we must be clear on that,” he said.

“However, Nigerian public officers named in the leaked papers will have a lot of explaining to do.

“One, they have to justify the assets traced to them in these offshore investments. Did they earn the money legitimately? Two, did they declare those assets to the Code of Conduct Bureau when in public office as required by the law? The Code of Conduct Act came into operation in the 1980s, so it is not a recent law.”

Falana said under the law, there is neither statute of limitation nor exemption for any public officer.

“The issue of trusteeship or blind trust does not arise because it is not known to the code of conduct law. The law also makes it clear that you cannot operate a foreign account,” he said.

Presidency sources said the attorney-general would consider the next line of action as more facts emerge.

“For now, no government official is going to comment because it is too early in the day,” the official said, but said prosecution is a “possibility”.

Those named so far held public offices at different times.

Saraki, who is currently facing trial over charges of false asset declaration, was governor of Kwara State between 2003 and 2011.

Ibori was Governor of Delta State from 1999 to 2007, while Danjuma was Chief of Army Staff from 1976 to 1979 as well as Minister of Defence from 1999 to 2003.

Mark was military Governor of Niger State (1985-1988), Minister of Communications and Senate President (2007-2015).

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