Nigerian lawyers chart path to recovery of looted funds at IBA
At a session on the “impact of illicit financial flows on Africa’s development and what African bar associations should recommend to their members and governments in response to the illicit flows”, a renowned commercial lawyer, George Etomi said ‘we are short-changed on both sides’, given that African funds are kept in foreign jurisdictions endlessly.
He cited the case of late Sani Abacha who died about ten years ago and the country is yet to get up to 10 per cent of the money he allegedly stole. Etomi canvassed a stronger collaboration between the anti-graft agencies and the various bar associations, with a view to combating financial crimes.
He stated that there is a disconnect between those empowered to fight corruption and those (lawyers) mandated to defend the freedom and right of citizens due to wrong perceptions.
In his contribution, Femi Falana (SAN) said it would be a mere pipe dream to think that foreign jurisdictions where the funds are domiciled would assist to repatriate them.
He said: “We are deceiving ourselves by thinking that institutions would assist Africans towards returning looted funds. USD $50 billion illicit outflow from Africa is infinitesimal, I think. We are not going to get the funds by collaborations with Western countries because they are the beneficiaries. The task before Africans is not to plead for the return of the money. We should, as lawyers device methodologies on how we can sue Western countries and recover this money. The US and Britain are leading the world in maintaining tax havens all over the world. We need to fight them, using international laws.”
According to him, the best approach is to file legal actions against any foreign entity in possession of looted funds. He noted that some treaties and conventions tied the hands of African countries in fighting for the return of the stolen funds, adding that various African countries should withdraw their signatures to such treaties.
He therefore proposed that Africans should adopt the system being operated in China. “We all know that corruption is a much serious crime than terrorism. Why can’t we adopt the system in China and Singapore? Why must we continue to play the ostrich? If we know that a terrorist deserves death sentence, why should a corrupt person be spared? And we are approaching it as if it is something we should slap them at the wrist,” he declared.
Other speakers proposed stringent penalty for chief executives of multinational agencies who assist to launder funds out of Africa, to serve as deterrent to others.
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