Nigeria: Pandora Papers - FIRS Vows to Go After Culpable Individuals

"In both instances, whether VAIDS or VOARS the law would take its full course on an individual that fails to disclose assets that are taxable."

The Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) has vowed actions to determine and punish possible tax offences following the landmark Pandora Papers investigation in which a number of rich and powerful Nigerians have been named.

The Pandora Papers project involves 617 journalists and 151 media outlets collaborating to investigate a vast amount of previously hidden offshore records of the powerful and super rich in the world.

The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists obtained the trove of 11.9 million confidential files and led the partners, including Nigeria's PREMIUM TIMES, that spent two years sifting through them, tracking down sources and digging into court files and other public records from dozens of countries.

The leaked records come from 14 offshore services firms from around the world that set up shell companies and other offshore nooks for clients often seeking to keep their financial activities in the shadows.

In the Nigerian series, published by PREMIUM TIMES, a number of Nigerian serving and past public officers have been reported as having links to offshore companies, many undeclared in accordance with the law and some others used to anonymously acquire UK properties.

Offshore firms are not necessarily illegal and they are used for legitimate purposes. But they feature prominently in illicit financial flows. Corrupt politicians use them to steal and launder proceeds of corruption across international jurisdictions.

In a statement sent to PREMIUM TIMES, a spokesperson for the FIRS, Johaness Wojuola, said the service will go after people reported in the leaks and suspected to have broken the law.

Nigerians reported so far include ex-governor of Anambra State, Peter Obi; governor of Kebbi State, Abubakar Bagudu; former minister and serving senator, Stella Oduah; NPA acting chief Mohammed Bello-Koko; and Governor Gboyega Oyetola of Osun State as well as their associates.

PREMIUM TIMES will publish more reports in the series.

FIRS Full Statement

I have taken a look at the Pandora leak and I think the scheme that is best applicable is the Voluntary Offshore Assets Regularization Scheme (VOARS), which though like VAIDS, applies more in particular to the ownership of offshore assets and the voluntary declaration of same.

This VOARS office was set up by the Attorney General's office and is managed by the same. It provides an opportunity, or say, an amnesty for taxpayers or tax defaulters as the case may be, to voluntarily declare their offshore assets and incomes from sources outside Nigeria and in return obtain some benefits.

The Scheme, which came into existence under Executive Order 008 was signed by President Muhammadu Buhari in 2018, was meant to operate or run for twelve months and covers assets and income from sources outside Nigeria relating to the preceding thirty years of assessment. The scheme has long ended.

For VAIDS, the Voluntary Assets and Income Declaration Scheme launched in 2017, is a scheme designed to encourage voluntary disclosure of previously undisclosed assets and income for the purpose of payment of all outstanding tax liabilities. Like VOARS, it was time-bound as well, and its amnesty ended.

In both instances, whether VAIDS or VOARS the law would take its full course on an individual that fails to disclose assets that are taxable (assets that are of Nigerian origin). So with this Pandora leaks that exposes hidden offshore assets of various world citizens, if there are any persons who are suspected to have a taxable asset by Nigerian laws among the revealed pool, the applicable processes with regards to investigation, charges, enforcement procedures, loss of the right to enjoy the amnesty the scheme offers, liability to pay in full the principal sum due, and the full penalties and interests that have arisen, as well as prosecution for tax offenses.

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