Regional tycoons, ex-ambassadors, prominent politicians, a presidential candidate and the promise of secrecy. The analysis of more than 27.5 million documents and the largest collaboration of investigative journalists in the region sheds light on the elephant in the room in West Africa’s economy and the silence that surrounds the offshore system.

After more than three years of revelations, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) partnered with the host of journalist for Investigative Reporting in West Africa to explore from regional perspective years of leaks that include the Panama Papers, Paradise Papers, Offshore Leaks and Swiss Leaks. While many stories have been told, today’s West Africa Leaks shows that there are more secrets to be revealed.

 

“These revelations show once more that people in positions of power have multiple options available to hide assets from authorities. Financial centres and West African authorities both need to have more effective anti-money laundering measures in place, in particular full transparency around who really owns corporate structures”, said Jessica Ebrard, anti-money laundering coordinator for Transparency International.

The leaked documents expose the beneficiaries of a well-oiled industry that offers supreme discretion and uncovers how deeply the offshore financial system has extended its influence into one of the most vulnerable regions in the world.

“These revelations show once more that people in positions of power have multiple options available to hide assets from authorities. Financial centres and West African authorities both need to have more effective anti-money laundering measures in place, in particular full transparency around who really owns corporate structures”, said Jessica Ebrard, anti-money laundering coordinator for Transparency International.

While offshore accounts can be legal, these types of structures enable wrongdoing and are a vehicle to hide assets and a potential tool for corruption, tax avoidance and evasion. This can drain countries’ resources that could otherwise have been invested in other services.

The collateral damage of these offshore manoeuvres, which are usually used by the elites, , is dramatic. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) recently released a report that highlighted how more than $50 billion per year has been funnelled out of the region through illicit flows. This amount is significant for countries where vast numbers of people live on less than $2 a day.

As OECD Secretary General Jorge Moreira da Silva pointed out, these figures represent “more than twice the bilateral aid to Africa and more than the sum of all the aid the continent receives – bilaterally and multilaterally “.

“Illicit activities and flows feed a vicious cycle of corruption, allowing groups or individuals in power to access resources that can be used to boost electoral campaigns, secure patronage and retain control. There are spillover effects from illicit and criminal activities, such as increased instability, violence or even terrorism”, the report says.

Following a series of offshore revelations, the United Kingdom recently decided to force its overseas territories – well-known tax heavens- to reveal the names of companies’ ultimate owners in what is one of the biggest transparency steps taken in recent years.

The steps, however, must also be taken by countries affected by these practices. Nick Deaden, director of U.K. nonprofit Global Justice Now, it is categorical.

To prevent tax dodging, governments must stop prevaricating on action to address tax havens. No country should tolerate companies with subsidiaries based in tax havens operating in their country”, he said in an article published by Al Jazeera.

This is the uncomfortable truth that West African nations will have to deal with. It is the region’s elephant in the room.

Buhari allies indicted in several of this reports.

 

 

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