…accuses US, Switzerland of double standard
In what appears a shocking revelation, the Federal Government has said that some unnamed countries were laying claims to huge funds stolen from the country and stashed in offshore accounts.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Geoffrey Onyeama, who made the claim yesterday in Abuja, also accused some foreign countries, including the United States and Switzerland, of double standard in respect of asset recovery and return.
Speaking at the second International Conference on Combating Illicit Financial Flows and Enhancing Asset Recovery for Sustainable Development, which was organised by the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC) and other agencies, Onyeama lamented the frustration that the country had continued to face in her loot recovery efforts.
Specifically, the minister mentioned Jersey as one of the jurisdictions the Federal Government was having serious challenge of recovery, as many countries now claim the stolen funds belong to them.
Jersey, an Island between England and France, is a self-governing dependency of the United Kingdom.
According to the minister, “Large sums of money have been found in Jersey, for instance, and other countries are laying claims to it. Because, in getting to Jersey, it passed through certain jurisdictions.
“And, it’s been going on for years and we haven’t been able to get the money back. And the same with so many other countries.”
While regretting the fate of developing countries, in relation to asset recovery, Onyeama said: “Another challenge we are facing at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is the issue of asset recovery. It’s mind-boggling the difficulty of restitution and recovering assets from foreign countries.
“Some of the big muscular countries, especially the United States, are able to put pressure on countries. And, we saw the pressure that was put on Switzerland, which was known for its banking secrecy. But we saw that, when some of the bigger countries like the United States, Germany and France were having very serious issues about their citizens, who were transferring large sums of money into Switzerland, and protected by this banking secrecy, these countries went after Switzerland in a very big way.
“Huge sanctions against major Swiss banks, and in no time at all, the Swiss buckled, and changed their laws, and made it much less opaque and made it possible for these countries to identify their citizens, who were stashing large sums of money in this country.
“But for developing countries like ourselves, it’s so much more difficult the kinds of hurdles that we have to overcome.”
On allegation of double standard, he said: “We got some money back from Switzerland, but my God, when you look at the details, I was shocked and extremely angry at the process of recovery. If you could see the percentage of the money that eventually came back to us, that was paid to all kinds of institutions; percentages of huge sums on money. This is daylight robbery that these countries are perpetrating; playing on the fact that we are not the United States.
“So, it’s something that we must keep harping on and mentioning wherever we have the opportunity, that these countries have to do a lot more, because, at the end of the day, they are condoning huge theft and accessory after the fact itself.
“If you are making it difficult for legitimate owners of assets to recover those assets and you allow your institutions and others to hide huge sums for your own benefit, you are guilty of theft.”
Meanwhile, the minister has doubted the possibility of implementing the 2030 sustainable development agenda, in the face of humongous illicit financial flows.
He said: “Without a shadow of doubt, the negative impact of illicit financial flows and asset recovery on the implementation of the 2030 agenda for sustainable development, including the sustainable development goals, cannot be over-emphasised.
“Evidence shows that enormous resources syphoned from Africa have stifled provision of basic infrastructure.”
In his remarks at the event, the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, insisted that illicit financial flows undermine government’s developmental plans.
Osinbajo, who was represented by Special Adviser to the President on Economic Matters, Dr. Yemi Dipeolu, said the menace must attract the same measure of global outrage that attends drug trafficking.
Earlier, the executive chairman, Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Mr. Babatunde Fowler, pointed out that there is no way developing nations will be able to fund their budgets, if the issue of corruption was not tackled head-on.
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