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Tax evasion: Fear grips Nigerian property owners in UK

Sunday, February 11, 2018


Uche Usim, Abuja

Nigerians who own undisclosed properties in the United Kingdom have entered into panic mode as the Federal Government has latched on to new UK regulations called the Unexplained Wealth Orders (UWOs) to assess properties, locations and tax compliance levels.

Consequently, many Nigerians nationals who have defaulted in their tax obligations and fear losing their properties to the UK Government, have inundated the Federal Ministry of Finance's Voluntary Assets and Income Declaration Scheme (VAIDS) hotlines with calls, causing the lines to crash last Friday.

Top government sources told Daily Sun on Sunday that many rich Nigerians (including a governor) with properties and businesses stashed overseas have appealed to the Federal Government to extend the March 31 deadline of VAIDS to give them more time to regularize their taxes.

The source said:

“The unprecedented level of calls was not unconnected with the new UK regulation with regard to UWOs. The confidential hotlines were provided to enable the booking of appointments. But it had received massive calls and frantic requests from tax payers in the last 72 hours, asking for extension of time to complete their VAIDS declaration forms.

“Because of the UK’s new law, the Federal Government has the data of Nigerians with properties and their tax status. The data is already in the possession of the VAIDS Office in Federal Ministry of Finance and it has revealed that many UK property owners have under paid their taxes in Nigeria before transferring funds overseas to buy property.

"Concerted efforts are ongoing to restore the hotlines following the crash on Friday . Most of the calls received are from high net worth individuals, including company executives, bankers and even a Governor. All seem to be in panic mode over the prospect of losing their investments," said a source at the VAIDS office.

He revealed that some of the apprehensive Nigerian property investors in the UK stormed the Federal Ministry of Finance last Friday without appointments, requesting to see the Minister and also the Head of the VAIDS Office.

“Most of the enquiries are about seeking assurance from the Nigerian government that the VAIDs programme can protect them from potential asset forfeiture to the UK Government. Others requested to know if their names had appeared on the lists from overseas”, the source said.

The UK Government had last week introduced a new law that requires foreign owners of properties in the country to explain the source of their funds or risk forfeiting them to the Government under UWOs.

According to the new law, the UWOs can be obtained for any property or combination of properties valued at just 50,000 (about N25 million) or more, for which the owner is unable to explain legal source of funds.

The UWO law, coupled with the revelation that many foreign governments are automatically sharing bank and property information with Nigeria, has resulted in an upsurge in enquiries about the VAIDs programme.

VAIDS allows Nigerian tax payers to restate their income and assets without limit and thus could potentially allow those who own property that cannot be explained by their previously declared income to regularise by declaring and paying the correct taxes.