SERAP demands investigation of public officers named in Panama Papers scandal

Oscarline Onwuemenyi
11 April 2016, Sweetcrude, Abuja – A civil society organisation, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), has asked the Chairman of the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB), Mr. Sam Saba, to urgently investigate current and immediate past high-ranking public officers named in the Panama Papers scandal, including other prominent persons who are maintaining and operating or have maintained and operated foreign accounts in other safe havens and jurisdictions.

Ibrahim Magu, Acting Executive Chairman, EFCC

Ibrahim Magu, Acting Executive Chairman, EFCC

The organisation also urged Saba to, where appropriate, refer such officers to the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) for prosecution.

SERAP made the demand in a letter dated April 8, 2016 and signed by its Executive Director, Adetokunbo Mumuni, which read in part: “SERAP believes that the Panama Papers have shown the extent to which public officers in the country are concealing their stolen wealth in safe havens and secrecy jurisdictions, contrary to the Code of Conduct for Public Officers which prohibits public officers from maintaining and operating foreign accounts.”

The organisation said, “We would be grateful if the Bureau could begin to take these steps within 14 days of the receipt and/or publication of this letter. If we have not heard from you by then as to the steps the bureau is taking to address the concerns raised in this letter, the registered trustees of SERAP shall take all appropriate legal actions to compel the bureau to effectively discharge its constitutional and statutory mandates in this instance.”

The group further said it hopes that the CCB will learn from the lessons of the Panama Papers to combat the abuse of the asset declaration requirements and not wait for further international disclosures that may implicate even more public officers in corruption and money laundering.

“SERAP argues that unless high-ranking public officers who use safe havens and secrecy jurisdictions to breach the fundamental requirements of asset declaration are sanctioned, named and shamed, the credibility of the asset declaration regime as a tool of preventing and combating corruption will continue to be doubted, and Nigerians will continue to witness climate of lack of transparency and widespread impunity of corrupt public officers in the country.

“SERAP also believes that bodies like the CCB should now seize the opportunity and use its mandate to react to this international scandal by taking concrete and proactive steps to address increasing breaches of constitutional provisions by high-ranking public officers.

“This action will be entirely consistent with the Nigerian 1999 Constitution (as amended), the law establishing the bureau, and will meet demands by Nigerians for improvement in transparency regarding asset declarations and sanctions of public officers for breaches,” it stated.

It added that, “Effective asset declaration regime can play an important role in detecting illicit enrichment and preventing corruption and avoiding the kind of international embarrassment that the Panama Papers represents for Nigeria.”

According to SERAP, the aims and objectives of the CCB include the establishment and maintenance of a high standard of morality in the conduct of public business and ensuring that the actions and behaviour of public officers conform to the highest standards of public morality and accountability.

It added that, “Provisions on the declaration of assets by public officers in Nigeria are entrenched in the Code of Conduct for Public Officers, contained in Part I of the Fifth Schedule to the 1999 Nigerian Constitution. These provisions aim to prevent corruption and abuse of office, to ensure transparency in public officers and to prevent high-ranking public officers operating foreign accounts to hide their ill-gotten wealth.

“SERAP also notes that acts prohibited by the Code include a public officer putting himself in a position where his personal interest conflicts with his duties and official responsibilities; holding two posts from which he is being paid from public funds; and operating foreign accounts.”

The Panama Papers are an unprecedented leak of 11.5m files from the database of the world’s fourth biggest offshore law firm, Mossack Fonseca. The records were obtained from an anonymous source by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ).

The ICIJ then shared them with a large network of international partners, including the Guardian and the BBC. The documents show the myriad ways in which corrupt public officers including some from Nigeria can exploit secretive offshore regimes to hide their ill-gotten wealth.

Among national leaders and former and current public officers are reportedly mentioned in the Panama Papers are: Senate President, Senator Bukola Saraki; Senator David Mark and the former governor of Delta State, Chief James Ononefe Ibori.

According to reports, Nigerian public officers, their families and close associates are increasingly using safe havens and secrecy jurisdictions like Panama to hide their stolen assets.”

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