By Ismaila Chafe
President Muhammadu Buhari has signed into law the new Executive Order 008 to further tighten tax and money laundering rules within and outside the country.
Malam Garba Shehu, the President’s Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, confirmed this development in a statement in Abuja on Wednesday.
According to the presidential aide, the new Executive Order 008 tagged ‘Voluntary Offshore Assets Regularization Scheme’ (VOARS) takes effect from Oct. 8 the day it was signed by the President.
He said that with the release of the new Executive Order, the Buhari administration had stepped up the regulations on money laundering and tax evasion.
“By this order, Nigerian taxpayers who hold offshore assets and incomes are expected to, within a period of 12 months, declare voluntary those assets and pay taxes on them.
“When they do this, they should expect to derive certain specified benefits,’’ he said.
He added that, “any taxpayer who truthfully and voluntarily complies with the conditions of the scheme, pays a one-time levy of 35 per cent on the total offshore assets or pays all outstanding taxes, penalties and interest after forensic audit of their offshore assets and income shall obtain immunity from prosecution for tax offences and offences related to offshore assets, among others.
“Equally, failure of any defaulting taxpayer to take advantage of this scheme shall, at the expiration of the scheme result in investigation and enforcement procedures concerning offshore assets anywhere in the world pursuant to information now readily available through automatic exchange of information between Nigeria and foreign countries.’’
In accordance with the new order, Shehu said the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice would set up a VOARS in Switzerland for all categories of taxpayers who had defaulted in the declaration of their offshore assets, payment of taxes due and collectible.
He, however, stated that this would be subject to the fulfilment of the terms and conditions as stipulated in the order, or any other subsequent complementary regulations that follow.
He added that to avoid the abuse of this process, “the federal government makes clear that the scheme is open to all persons, entities, and their intermediaries holding offshore assets and are in default of their tax obligations in any way.’’
Shehu stated that this included “those who are not already under investigation by law enforcement agencies in Nigeria or any other country and have not been charged with any crimes including theft of public funds or obtaining offshore assets through corrupt practices.”
In signing the order, Buhari noted that under the Nigerian law, every citizen has the duty to declare his or her income and assets and pay taxes on them but regretted that this, in most instances, had not been the case.
“The sad reality is that efforts to recover these taxes from defaulters through litigation are often frustrated by the complications caused by the change in the character and nature of such assets, insufficient financial intelligence, long delays in courts, among several other reasons,” the President said.
Buhari expressed the hope that the new scheme would help to facilitate the expedient regularization of offshore assets connected to Nigeria.
He also believed that it would lead to “a new expanded tax base for the Federal Government, and also fund the Nigeria Infrastructure Fund in Switzerland.’’