FG Moves To Seize Illegally Acquired Assets Abroad | Independent Newspapers Limited
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FG Moves To Seize Illegally Acquired Assets Abroad

Posted: May 31, 2016 at 4:30 am   /   by   /   comments (0)


…To Collaborate With Europe’s Property Registries


Alao Salimon & Bamidele Ogunwusi


The Federal Government may have started moves to collaborate with property registry authorities in the United Kingdom and other advanced economies in Europe to fish out illegally acquired assets by Nigerians.

This is in line with its anti-corruption crusade, according to Independent investigations.

Independent gathered that operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) have already spread their tentacles abroad to unveil the ill-gotten wealth and properties from Nigeria.

Sources close to the government said those on the radar include corporate Nigerians, politicians and government contractors, most especially top civil servants, whose lifestyle seems to be above their means.

It was gathered that the EFCC has been mandated by the presidency to go after those categories of people and obtain relevant facts for onward prosecution. Following this development, operatives of the EFCC have mapped out strategies including the use of Interpol and private detectives to access certain accounts abroad most especially in countries that have already signified intention to work with Nigeria to expose looted funds and corrupt officials behind them.

A source, who confirmed this development, said some politicians, who were privileged to this information have moved to block the operatives from getting details of their assets and their locations.

He informed that some of them were making frantic efforts to transfer their assets abroad to third parties for safe-keeping to avoid detection by the EFCC and their collaborators.

He, however, said the strategy might not work as forensic investigation will reveal traces of accounts including when assets changed ownership.

It was gathered that some of them had been making frequent trips to United Kingdom (UK), United States (US), United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and Ghana to see how their assets could be transferred to third parties through their lawyers and assets managers pending when the current administration leaves office.

Fola Adedun, a US-based asset manager, said it is surprising that many Nigerian politicians including current political appointees are looking for asset managers from US to manage their properties.

He said what they are actually looking for are people that could hold their properties in trust for them pending the time they leave office.

He said though such deals attract good money, it might put both the owner and the manager in trouble if US law enforcement agents find out any shady deal in the transactions. He also said that the game might end in futility, as investigation will later reveal true identity of owners at particular point in time.

lbert Oladapo, a UK-based lawyer, said this is not a new development as rich Nigerians have always treated the UK as second home.

“They see UK properties as necessity to complete their asset portfolio. Many of them are former office holders who simply go to the UK to enjoy their ill-gotten assets.

“Now, there is always a catch, two catches perhaps. Assets in the UK are a good store of value. Property appreciates here faster than most parts of the world. You buy a house now and five years later it has almost doubled. So you re-mortgage and cream-off enormous profit or capital gains.

“The second catch is that the UK has always nurtured its own economy on assets. People bring in diverse investments from all over the world into UK banks and estates. These deposits are given as loans to their investors and businesses.

“The UK did not show any serious aversion to such assets until terror financing became a real problem. Cheap money from the Arab world and other sources were usually traced to have been useful for funding terrorist plots. That was when the UK developed a rash of laws and rules to bar the influx of illicit money”, he said, adding that there are so many laws now in operation to track transactions.

“Indeed it is a global onslaught but you must never forget the major trigger was terrorism and not the need to prevent money laundering and fraud.

“The United Nations takes the lead with the Financial Action Task Force which helps to firm up a uniform global threshold for defining and fighting money laundering”, Oladapo noted.

On the move by the UK to help Nigeria recover looted funds, Oladapo said that Nigeria’s angle to money laundering in the UK is a big riddle. “The claim that the UK government is ready to assist is a non-statement because the rules for the repatriation of the proceeds of crime have always been there and all you need to do, as the victim, is to follow the procedure. There is too much grandstanding on the part of the Nigerian authorities on this. I can only hope that they are taking the right steps and doing concrete things beyond politicking.

“First, the defendant has to be convicted by a competent court in Nigeria or UK.  Then, the subject of the convicted felon becomes the basis for repatriation application. It is easier when the conviction is by a UK court.

“The UK has an extensive legal system starting with the magistrates and ending with the House of Lords which is now the Supreme Court of England and Wales. Conviction in this instance would typically be at High Court or equivalent level.

“Appeal ends usually at the Court of Appeal except where there are issues of law which could take things to the Supreme Court or even the European Court of Justice in Strasburg. It is after the legal requirements have been fulfilled that the issue of repatriation arises.

“As for transfer of assets, that has become very difficult now. The reason is that there is now a 10,000 euro limit to the amount you may bring into the UK. It is also more difficult to open an UK account without certain criteria being fulfilled. As to body language, it is doubtful whether the UK government will take any serious steps beyond those permitted by law.”

Oladapo noted that “asset or money laundering through asset concealment in the UK is not a whimsical activity the way it is being suggested. Definitely not anymore.”

The former Chairman of EFCC, Mr. Ibrahim Lamorde, has said that tracing stolen funds and assets abroad is cumbersome, adding that government should establish special courts to fast track prosecution of suspects on trial for corruption.

Alan Flanagan, Global Head of Private Equity and Real Estate Fund Services, BNY Mellon, said, “The pressure from clients and regulators to ensure transparency and efficiency influenced roughly 70 percent of fund managers to consider outsourcing. The increased costs of managing real assets will also encourage more managers to turn to external staff. Along with the financial aspects, access to more complex, thorough market analyses is why outsourcing will be a smart business decision.

“Investment managers’ business models must have flexibility to thrive in such a fast-evolving environment and also be able to meet growing regulatory reporting, as well as institutional investor demands for transparency”.

David Cameron, UK Prime Minister, has announced the creation of the first-ever global forum to step up international efforts on asset recovery. The UK has also secured commitments from 20 other countries at the Anti-Corruption Summit held in London to strengthen or reinforce legislation to ensure that stolen assets could be recovered.

The PM also announced that the UK and 20 other countries including Nigeria, Spain, Sweden, United Arab Emirates, USA, Germany and France are bringing together the public and private sectors to fight corruption and money laundering. He said the intelligence sharing partnerships will unite banks, regulators and law enforcement to tackle financial crime by exchanging and analysing information on illicit financial flows.

He added that countries will strengthen existing links or develop models like the UK’s Joint Money-Laundering Intelligence Taskforce (JMLIT), whose work has led to arrests, the freezing of funds and the closure of bank accounts linked to crime. The JMLIT brings together the National Crime Agency, City of London Police, Financial Conduct Authority, HMRC and a number of domestic and international banks including Barclays and HSBC.

Also, 11 countries have committed to develop the first internationally-endorsed guidelines to ensure transparency and accountability in the return of stolen assets.