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23rd Jun 2018

Corruption: Nigeria, Ukraine want their money back

  • Londonistan - home to billions of pounds worth of homes held secretly by foreign oligarchs (Photo: Davide D’Amico)

Some of the world's most corrupt countries have agreed to hit back at dishonesty and graft.

The world's first anti-corruption summit took place on Thursday (12 May) in Lancaster House, a lavish London residence.

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  • Nigerian leader Muhammadu Buhari said want his country's money back. (Photo: UK Cabinet Office)

The chair, Britain's prime minister David Cameron, was caught on open mike telling Queen Elisabeth II on Tuesday that he had managed to secure the attendance of some "fantastically corrupt" countries, including Afghanistan and Nigeria - "possibly the two most corrupt countries in the world".

But Nigeria's president Muhammadu Buhari said he didn't bear a grudge.

”I’m not demanding an apology,” Buhari said. ”I am demanding a return of assets.”

The Nigerian president said his government is committed to the fight against corruption, which he called the ”hydra-headed monster and cankerworm that undermines the fabric of all societies”.

But it is hard to fight when the culprits flee the country.

”Unfortunately, our experience has been that repatriation of corrupt proceeds is very tedious, time consuming, costly and entails more than just the signing of bilateral or multilateral agreements,” Buhari said.

”It is for this reason that we are seeking the support of many countries for the prosecution of certain individuals residing in their jurisdictions.”

Where does corruption happen?

The debate highlighted that corruption isn't limited to developing countries. Britain, for instance, scores well in transparency rankings but facilitates corruption abroad.

Many of Britain's crown dependencies and overseas territories in Jersey, Guernsey, the Caymans, and the British Virgin Islands are tax havens.

The Panama Papers recently revealed that Cameron had owned shares in an offshore fund. The prime minister denied wrong-doing and said that he sold them in January 2010, before taking the helm at Downing Street.

The British capital has also earned the nicknames of Londongrad, or Moscow-on-Thames, because of the many Russian, Ukrainian or Azeri oligarchs that bought luxurious estates here, often using plundered or laundered cash.

Summit delegates could have gone for a kleptocrat tour of the town on Thursday morning.

An estimated 100,000 properties are owned by anonymous shell companies in England and Wales.

Summit statements

That may change soon.

In the course of the summit, Cameron pledged to set up a public registry in his country so that foreign companies that already hold or want to buy property in the UK will be forced to reveal who really owns them.

”We are also consulting on reversing the burden of proof, so that if we suspect people of using stolen money to buy property we can force them to prove they accumulated their wealth legitimately - or they will face having it stripped from them by a court”, Cameron said.

The most far-reaching commitment was however made by Afghanistan, France, Kenya, the Netherlands, Nigeria and UK. The six agreed to set up public registers of beneficial owners, listing who really owns a company.

Another 40 countries furthermore said they will exchange beneficial ownership information between their governments. Those countries include Cayman Islands, Jersey, Bermuda and the Isle of Man.

The British Virgin Islands did not agree to do it.

The US said it would host a global forum for the recovery of assets next year. It will, to begin with, focus on returning resources to Nigeria, Ukraine, Sri Lanka and Tunisia.

Cameron also announced the creation of an international anti-corruption coordination centre, which will bring together law enforcement agencies from eight countries to help them recover stolen assets. The centre will be located in London.

The ones missing out

That was not enough for Daria Kaleniuk, director of the Anticorruption Action Centre in Kiev and the Ukrainian panel speaker.

Ukraine’s president Petro Poroshenko missed the London summit. He's facing a tough time after he was mentioned by the Panama Papers.

”Ukraine is one of the most corrupt countries in Europe”, Kaleniuk told this website.

She called for temporary teams of foreign experts to be deployed in Ukraine.

”The EU is now sending advisers, we need them to have the mandate to prosecute. All IMF [International Monetary Fund] and EU support to Ukraine should be conditional”, she said.

'Weak tea'

Transparency International's Casey Kelso told EUobserver it had by and large been a good day for the fight against corruption.

"It was a good step forward. More than 40 countries signed up to different actions."

It would bring about some real change if countries implement their pledges properly.

"It's a weak tea, but it's tea", he added.

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