The Nigerian government on Tuesday said it will investigate users of offshore tax shelters recently exposed in the ongoing Paradise Papers global investigation.
The Finance Minister, Kemi Adeosun, said the Federal Ministry of Finance's data mining project would use data provided on Nigerians from the leaks to crosscheck tax declarations.
Mrs. Adeosun, who spoke to journalists in Abuja on Tuesday, noted that with the increasing global focus on illicit financial flows and tax evasion, offshore tax shelters no longer offer robust protection against tax authorities.
She said the continued use of such schemes poses enormous risks for the users, stressing that the #ParadisePapers leaks were just the beginning of what is likely to be a "systematic unravelling of the offshore tax haven system."
The #ParadisePapers investigation is an offshoot of a leaked data obtained by German newspaper, Suddeutsche Zeitung, and International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, ICIJ, from two offshore secrecy providers (Appleby and Asiaciti Trust) and 19 secrecy jurisdictions.
The leaked 1.4 terabyte data, now dubbed Paradise Papers, contains 13.4 million records and is no doubt one of the biggest leaks in history.
For a year, more than 380 journalists from 96 media organisations in 67 countries pored over the gigantic data, which cover a period of nearly 70 years, from 1950 to 2016.
More than 120 politicians and country leaders, in nearly 50 countries, as well as hundreds of business people across the world were identified in the records as users of offshore entities.
PREMIUM TIMES, the only Nigerian newspaper involved in the investigation, has already reported how Nigeria's Senate President, Bukola Saraki; Central Bank of Nigeria's governor, Godwin Emefiele; and Zenith Bank Chief, Jim Ovia, operated offshore tax firms.
The Paradise Papers' documents come a year after the publication of Panama Papers in April 2016.
Mrs Adeosun urged Nigerians to cooperate with the government by "paying the right taxes to both the Federal and State Governments in order to provide the much needed funds that will improve the lives of Nigerians."
She also advised Nigerians to "review any existing tax planning schemes, including those in offshore tax havens, in order to take advantage of the Voluntary Assets and Income Declaration Scheme (VAIDS) to regularise their tax status where necessary."
"The critical question to be asked by all Nigerian tax payers using offshore tax shelters will be whether all applicable taxes have been paid prior to the transfer of funds or assets to a tax shelter.
"If all taxes had been paid, then there will be no additional liability except tax payable on further income earned on those funds. However, if taxes had not been paid, then the use of such schemes is illegal," she said.
Mrs. Adeosun counselled users of such structures to seek professional advice, explaining further that the Federal Ministry of Finance was offering free training to professional advisers on the VAIDS to enable them support their clients.
She urged users of offshore tax shelters to promptly embrace the VAIDS scheme to regularise their tax status, adding that Nigeria's low tax revenues were at variance with the lifestyles of a large number of its people and with the value of asset owned by Nigerians resident around the world.
"VAIDS ushers in an opportunity to increase the nation's general tax awareness and compliance. It is a time-limited opportunity for taxpayers to regularise their tax status relating to previous tax periods."
She spoke on the benefits of the VAIDS.
"In exchange for fully and honestly declaring previously undisclosed asset and income, taxpayers will benefit from forgiveness of overdue interest and penalties, and with further assurance that they will not face criminal prosecution for tax offences or be subject to tax investigations."
The Minister maintained that sanctions await defaulters who refuse the Federal Government's offer of tax amnesty, including the full payment of outstanding tax liability and criminal prosecution.