David Cameron, then British Prime Minister, infamously labelled Nigeria as “fantastically corrupt” on the eve a publicity stunt that he arranged and tagged an “anti-corruption summit” in May last year. Cameron is heard on tape saying, in a conversation with the English Queen: “We’ve got some leaders of some fantastically corrupt countries coming to Britain… Nigeria and Afghanistan, possibly the two most corrupt countries in the world.”
Nigeria’s Muhammadu Buhari attended the summit, claiming he wanted to recover Nigerian loot stashed in Britain. However, the reality is that neither Nigeria nor Britain is serious about combating corruption. In fact, Britain, despite pretenses to the contrary, encourages Nigerian corruption. This was made clear during a money laundering and tax evasion debate in the British parliament yesterday.
Opening the debate Labour MP Margaret Hodge, representing Barking in east London and a former Chair of parliament’s Public Accounts Committee stated: “Our persistent lack of transparency and our appallingly lax regulatory framework have made us the country of choice for every kleptocrat, crook and despot in the world. We have become the safe haven for dirty money. We are allowing money laundering and tax avoidance to take place on an industrial scale.”
Another Labour MP Rupa Huq roped in David Cameron with this contribution: “Two years ago, the then Prime Minister declared that London was not ‘a place to stash dodgy cash’. A year ago, in front of 40 governments from around the world, the UK committed to a public register of foreign companies owning UK property to prevent those who are corrupt from being able ‘to move, launder and hide illicit funds through London’s property market’ Yet we have seen zero progress on all that.”
Hodge continued: “Our corporate rules and our weak regulatory framework are a gift to villains. Far from being proud, we should be ashamed. Today, I want to try to convince the Minister and the Government to act urgently to destroy the opportunities we are allowing, which are exploited by criminals and make us complicit in their crimes. We can stop this, but at the moment we are choosing not to do so.”
Huq, who is also a Shadow Home Affairs spokesperson, added: “Since the flourish of the anti-corruption summit … David Cameron has completely left the crime scene.” Cameron fell on his own sword and had to resign in June last year after his country voted to leave the EU.
In the meantime, the UK has continued with the pretense of helping Nigeria combat corruption with the arrest and prosecution of Diezani Madueke, the former petroleum minister, on money laundering charges. Many see this as a token gesture because Madueke belonged to a regime no longer in power in Nigeria. Members of the current ruling party and Buhari’s administration have remained untouchable despite using a host of shell companies to acquire prime real estate in the UK, with laundered money.
Earlier this month, Russian anti-corruption activist Roman Borisovich and other anti-corruption campaigners in London organised a bus tour designed to expose money-laundering by foreigners and how Britain’s capital is a safe haven for their money. The tour showed the multimillion pound properties of Nigerian kleptocrats such as former military dictator Abdulsalam Abubakar, Madueke and current Senate President Bukola Saraki.
Hodge said during yesterday’s money laundering debate: “I feel deep shame and embarrassment that we in the UK are not just complicit but central to the success of these despicable practices. We seem somehow to believe that dirty money is good for the British economy, but if homes are being bought with laundered money, it just fuels house prices and adds to our housing crisis. In accepting corrupt money, we accept the lawlessness that goes with it. Ministers must act to ensure much greater transparency and to clean up the UK’s corporate structures.
“I ask the Minister to address these points. The Government promised us a register of beneficial ownership of property in the UK. We want to know who owns our houses. Consultation on this ended in May and nothing has happened. When will the Minister act to create the register? The Government have yet to commence the legislation on unexplained wealth orders. Why the delay? The Government continue to refuse to use their powers to insist on public registers of beneficial ownership in all our overseas territories, many of them tax havens. Why not act? The Government should properly staff Companies House. At the moment, six individuals are tasked with investigating breaches of company law in a register of 3.5 million corporate structures. Such under-resourcing makes a farce of our commitment to good regulation”.
There is a greater chance of snowfall in Nigeria than the British taking any serious action to curb their country’s prime position as a safe haven for stolen cash.