Osinbajo Calls for Repatriation of Stolen Assets

Vice President Yemi Osinbajo has called for an urgent robust global framework on repatriation of stolen assets to ensure quick restitution to victim countries.

Osinbajo made the call in his remarks at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), anti-corruption forum in Paris, France, on Thursday, noting that such framework was long overdue.

He said there was every justification to regard corruption as a crime against humanity but expressed regrets that about the existence of weak institutions in developing nations to grapple with the phenomenon.

According to him, there is consensus that corruption and illicit financial flows out of Africa, delay the attainment of development goals and worsen practically all human development indices.

Osinbajo also noted that such acts also “trap the majority of African people especially the most vulnerable in a cycle of misery’’.

“We respectfully urge that this power be exercised more vigorously and without further delay,’’ he said.

Osinbajo also called for greater global collaboration to ensure transparency in financial transfers and outlaw of secrecy jurisdictions.

According to him, there must be more rigorous enforcement of rules promoting transparency in the international banking and financial systems, especially more stringent know-your-customer rules on customer identity, source of wealth and country of origin.

“Countries hosting global financial centres, and other usually targeted destinations of illicit flows must be held more accountable.

“This is to enforce mechanisms which ensure transparency of ownership, control, beneficial ownerships, trusts and other legal contrivances that may be used to camouflage financial or other assets.

“Open contracting and information systems, are also crucial,’’ he added.

Osinbajo said responsible government authorities ought to have information about which companies won what contracts and what they had paid as taxes to governments in host and home countries.

He expressed concern that tracing, freezing and return of stolen assets had proved in many cases to be exceptionally difficult for most African countries.

“We in Nigeria have seen just how difficult it is to get back stolen assets from the international financial system.

“Banks ought not to have received those funds in the first place if the most routine questions were asked,’’ he noted.

Accordingly, Osinbajo suggested that the OECD, G20 and G8 Anti-Corruption and Integrity initiatives should have developing countries on the table.

“The demand and supply side of international corruption and illicit financial flows may be better served by this approach,’’ he said.

The VP recalled the effort being made in West Africa on regional cooperation.

He mentioned the draft ECOWAS Common Investment Code of 2013 which provides in Article 29 (4) and (5) that Member-States should conclude treaties to allow for exchange of information between the fiscal authorities of  the various jurisdictions.

He added that the President Muhammadu Buhari cabinet on Wednesday ratified a treaty on the ECOWAS Tax Administration Forum, which would open the way for greater cooperation amongst West African States in the exchange of tax information.

Said he: “internally, we have established a seven-man Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption.

“We also established an Anti-Corruption and Criminal Justice Reform fund with the support of three international Development Partners: Ford Foundation, MacArthur Foundation and the Open Society West Africa.

“Our Whistleblower initiative launched barely eight weeks ago has achieved great success and praise both locally and internationally.

“We also announced a tax amnesty within the context of politics.

“We signed several bilateral mutual legal assistance treaties on collaboration on financial crimes and corruption with numerous countries within and outside our region, the latest being with the United Arab Emirates,” he said.

Osinbajo said that of particular note on the continental level was the ground breaking work of the Thabo Mbeki Panel on illicit financial flows from Africa.

He said the initiative which was sponsored by a joint commission of the AU and the ECA, alarmed at the prospect that most African States besides earnings and official development assistance, would still not meet MDG targets in 2015.

Osinbajo said that Africa loses $50 billion annually in illicit financial flows.

He observed that the Panel’s far-reaching conclusions and recommendations again underscored the overwhelming importance of global collaboration.

He said it was especially to bridge the huge capacity gap between the large corporations and organised crime identified as the foremost perpetrators and facilitators of corrupt activity in and also illicit flows from Africa.

The VP said more should be done in response to the Mbeki report that the global architecture against corruption and illicit flows remained weak, incomplete and complicated in many respects.

“For many African countries, operationalising some of these mechanisms may be expensive, cumbersome or simply sometimes beyond their existing capacities,’’ he declared.