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FG offers amnesty to owners of undeclared foreign assets

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The Federal Government has promised amnesty to Nigerians with assets and investments abroad who failed to declare them in a bid to evade paying taxes.

Ministers for Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami and his finance counterpart, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed made this public in Abuja on Tuesday while unveiling the “Voluntary offshore assets regularization scheme (VOARS).”

Malami explained that, just like the Voluntary Assets and Income Declaration Scheme (VAIDS), the rationale for the VOARS is to provide an opportunity for taxpayers or amnesty for tax defaulters to voluntary declare their offshore assets and income from sources outside Nigeria relating to the preceding thirty (30) years of assessment.

The AGF said anyone, who voluntarily declare his/her offshore assets will be entitled to “permanent waiver of criminal prosecution for tax offences and offences related to the offshore assets, penalties and interests concerning such declared offshore assets.

He added that such Nigerian will enjoy “immunity from tax audit of the declared and regularized offshore assets; waiver of interest and penalties on the declared and regularized offshore assets.”

The AGF added that those, who voluntary declare, will “receive from Federal Government of Nigeria an Offshore Assets Regularization Compliance Certificate on the declared and regularized offshore assets.”

He said they will “be free to use or invest their duly regularized residual offshore assets in any manner In Nigeria or overseas and be subject only to annual tax to Federal Government of Nigeria on the income earned on such residual offshore assets.”

The AGF expressed optimism that President Muhammadu Buhari will grant an extension since, the scheme, meant to last a year, beginning from October last year, was just being unveiled on April 2, 2019.

Malami said the legal basis for VOARS exists in the Executive Order 8 (EO8) signed by President Muhammadu Buhari on October 8, 2018.

He said the EO8 also provides the legal basis for a group, the Swiss Consortium to approach third party holders of offshore funds, with a view to accessing information on the owners.

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Malami said the third party intended in the scheme include: banks, estate managers, auditors and accountants.

In her contribution, Mrs. Ahmed said the introduction of VOARS aims to serve as an additional opportunity and mechanism for Nigerian citizens to continue to fulfil their tax obligations by extending the scope to offshore assets and foreign-sourced income.

She said the EO8 provides a platform for taxpayers, who have defaulted in the payment of their taxes, to voluntarily declare all offshore assets and foreign-sourced income relating to the preceding 30 years of assessment.

Mrs. Ahmed explained that the VOAR scheme provides a one-year window, commencing from the October 8, 2018 for affected taxpayers to declare all offshore assets and foreign-sourced income without the threat of criminal prosecution for tax offences related to undeclared offshore assets.

She added: “Through this scheme, it is our aim that the culture of accountability and I honesty in citizens to fully declare any income and assets owned will begin to grow and will encourage more citizens to readily come forward to declare without any threat of interrogation and/or prosecution.”

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