Concerned by the phenomenal underdevelopment implications of stolen capital flight from developing countries to safe havens in developed states and the laundering of resources through bribery and corruption in the conduct of international businesses, the Kent Law School of the University of Kent under the University of Kent Impact Funds in collaboration with The Corner House; Global Witness and Human and Environmental Development Agenda convened a one-day specialized training session targeted at Diaspora communities of West Africa, anti-corruption activists, compliance officers, anti-corruption agencies, registrars, senior state counsel, senior civil servants, judicial officers, accountants, journalists, estate managers, diplomats and legal advisers. Also in attendance were representatives of Nigeria's Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption (PACAC) and the Nigerian High Commission in the UK.
The course offered a practical, doctrinal and procedural introduction to researching UK and a select other countries’ property and company ownership records, using public sources of information.
The conference sought to expose participants to: the current innovative Nigerian whistleblowing program, which compensates whistleblowers; strategies for Africans in the Diaspora to influence safeguard of their countries' fortunes through tracing where national loots are stored; researching of tax fiddles, scams and shell companies; tracing of assets of politically exposed persons and statesmen; knowledge of means by which politically exposed persons disguise their wealth and use tax havens as well as financial hubs for storing stolen wealth; understanding of issues surrounding the use of UK Companies House in conducting searches; how to work with Company Registrars in other countries; use of company annual reports and prospectuses; examining the procedural rules that apply to researching companies and corporate networks; examining e-resources to trace proceeds of corruption and financial crimes; and interaction with world-renowned experts who have worked on some of the most high-profile corruption investigations in the UK, United States of America, Europe and Nigeria.
Participants and resource persons, after reviewing, analyzing and dissecting the theme and sub-themes on; flight of capital into foreign property market: scale of the Nigerian problem; law and practice of the whistle blower policy of the Nigeria, scope of participation of Diaspora communities; the A-Z of international company search; breaking corruption scandals in Nigeria from home and abroad; researching London properties; research and tracing sham/shell company investments; tracing noxious illicit financial flows: updates on the law and practice of asset recovery from Europe to Africa and reviewing strategies on protection of the commonwealth; committing Diaspora Africans to whistle blowing and detection of grand corruption proceed, observed as follows:
- The stolen wealth of developing states and proceeds of bribery and corruption in their participation in international businesses have found safe haven in the Western hemisphere.
- Every year billions of money stolen from some of the most impoverished countries in the world by corrupt politicians, public officials and business people enters the UK and other western countries unreported.
- Over £4.2 billion worth of properties in and around London have been identified as bought and owned by politicians and public officials with suspicious wealth from around the world.
- Recent study shows those buying apartments in 14 landmark London developments are overseas investors and 40 per cent of the investors are often Politically Exposed Persons (PEPs) that have come from countries with a high corruption risk.
- Laws and enforcement mechanisms in the UK are weak in identifying, tracing, investigating and confiscating proceeds of crimes finding their ways into the UK system from developing countries or countries with high corruption risks.
- Laws, mechanisms and platforms available for tracing, tracking, confiscating and repatriating stolen assets and funds in the UK and the Whistleblower policy of the Nigerian Government are underutilised by Nigerians and Africans in Diaspora to discourage illicit financial flow and money laundering from developing countries.
- Failure of Africans in Diaspora to expose obscene display of wealth and opulent style of life by Politically Exposed Persons emboldens treasury looters in their criminal acts within Europe, especially the UK
- Law enforcement and judicial institutions in high corruption risk countries like Nigeria are deliberately weakened and compromised by politicians and their international business collaborators to escape justice and provide legitimacy for their proceeds of crime.
- In violation of the UNCAC provisions on Stolen Asset Recovery, recipient countries of stolen assets tend to deploy all possible technical and legal obstacles to prevent expeditious repatriation of tracked and confiscated loots to countries of origin.
- Nigerians in Diaspora and at home are not taking full advantage of the new whistleblower policy of the Nigerian Government to: expose the avalanche of looted resources in the UK; deter further illicit flow of proceeds of corruption to the country; get rewarded for their involvement in repatriation of stolen wealth.
- At the International Anti-Corruption Summit in 2016 the UK government committed to introducing a public register naming the ultimate beneficial owners of UK properties that are owned by overseas companies. Under the UK’s Open Government Partnership National Action Plan, the primary legislation that would create the register is scheduled to be initiated before April 2018. The policy has been drafted and widely consulted on.
Participants therefore recommend as follows:
- Africans in Diaspora should be brought up to speed with the essential terminology, concepts and principles that define these specialist areas of money laundering, illicit financial flow, safe haven for stolen assets and shell/sham companies.
- Stakeholders to design and organise twice a year, refresher courses, trainings and conferences to ensure comprehension of the many technical terms of law, strategy and other intricacies of tracing illegally owned properties in the UK
- Government and non-government actors to convene fora to identify and examine the phenomenon of illicit financial flows and highlight the main treaties, principles, soft laws as well as the legal, political, diplomatic and procedural steps by which corrupt assets can be traced, frozen, seized, forfeited and returned.
- State and Non-State Actors in the UK must engage the available legal mechanisms to recognize, prevent, recover and return all forms of Illicit Financial Flows from High Corruption Risk Countries.
- Inter-governmental framework developed around the conditions of return of stolen funds must take account of the integrity of requesting states.
- Returnable assets should include punitive fines, compensation and disgorged profits earned from settlements; other illicit outflows such as diverted tax, shifted profits, and illicit gains linked to operations of multinational corporations
- Diasporans should help victim countries map scope of looted funds and come up with information on: where assets are located; which assets are worth following; recovery mechanism; and professionals to use.
- UK citizens and Diasporans should build the momentum to bring the government and law enforcement systems in conformity with their duties to account for, trace, track and confiscate stolen assets within the UK system.
- Several measures could be used to augment online searches such as physical investigations and intense analysis of information in the public domain on social media.
- A network of volunteer investigators and researchers is to be formed from the ranks of attendees of this conference to make connection with other research groups and Africans in the Diaspora in order to engage in further specialist anti-corruption activities including monthly online joint illicit investment tracing sessions.
- Civil society to increase its pressure on the UK government to deliver on the promise it made at the Summit in 2016. Interested international allies to raise their concerns about the lack of political will and implementation through formal government-to-government channels.
Dr. Gbenga Oduntan, University of Kent
Nick Hildyard, Corner House
Simon Taylor, Global Witness
Olanrewaju Suraju, HEDA