Thursday

2nd Apr 2020

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.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or join as a group

  • 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.

Corruption costs EU €71bn a year

EU-wide legal instruments and better coordination among policy makers would reduce the cost of organised crime and corruption costs on European economy and society, a study says.

Interview

EU Africa envoy: Europe needs to look beyond migration

Europe's obsession with migration from Africa means it risks losing out the continent's potential when it comes to trade, says the EU's ambassador to the African Union, Ranier Sabatucci. "Africa is a growing continent, it is the future," he says.

No breakthrough at EU budget summit

EU leaders failed to reach agreement on the EU's long-term budget, as richer states and poorer 'cohesion countries' locked horns. The impasse continues over how to fund the Brexit gap.

News in Brief

  1. Danish conservatives want Orban party kicked out of EPP
  2. Dutch finance minister repents on virus help
  3. France to house domestic violence victims in hotels
  4. Europe sends medical goods to Iran, despite US embargo
  5. Commission sets consultation on raising 2030 climate target
  6. 12-year old Belgian girl dies of coronavirus
  7. EU commission: no 'indefinite' emergency measures
  8. Denmark plans 'gradual' return to normal after Easter

Vietnam sent champagne to MEPs ahead of trade vote

A trade deal with Vietnam sailed through the European Parliament's international trade committee and after its embassy sent MEPs bottles of Moet & Chandon Imperial champagne over Christmas.

Feature

Promises and doubts: Africa's free-trade adventure

The EU is hoping that a continent-wide free trade agreement in Africa will help lift millions out of poverty and help solve issues of security and migration. But its message of values and equal partnership do not resonate with everyone.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAMaking Europe’s Economy Circular – the time is now
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersScottish parliament seeks closer collaboration with the Nordic Council
  3. UNESDAFrom Linear to Circular – check out UNESDA's new blog
  4. Nordic Council of Ministers40 years of experience have proven its point: Sustainable financing actually works
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ministers paving the way for 5G in the region
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms

Latest News

  1. Without European patriotism, EU decline is inevitable
  2. EU cancels April Fool's 'fake news'
  3. A coronavirus 'Marshall Plan' alone won't be nearly enough
  4. Trying to think straight about coronavirus
  5. Berlin ready to airlift Greek island refugees
  6. Von der Leyen criticises Hungary, but fails to mention it
  7. Air pollution drops in Europe, but how long will it last?
  8. Human rights abusers don't stop for virus, MEPs tell EU

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us