Journalism of Courage

Property-tax cheats facing crackdown, as FG set to auction N1 trillion worth of assets.

The federal government is set to auction N1 trillion worth of homes and properties owned by tax delinquent individuals and corporate organizations, Per Second News gathered Tuesday.

Following the failure of individuals and corporate firm to disclose their assets under the Voluntary Assets and Income Declaration Scheme, VAIDS, the Federal Internal Revenue Service (FIRS) is set to go after defaulters properties.

For years — decades, really — most property owners have been ducking property and business taxes by illegally defaulting, usually with impunity.

But these days, gambling on getting caught is a fool’s game, as investigations by Per Second News reveal that the federal government is gradually securing court orders to sell off properties worth over a trillion naira.

Property tax violations and deceit has erupted into a red-hot issue in Nigeria and a crackdown is under way with all indications that it will only get tougher for tax cheats to elude detection.

Since last year, tax detectives and data experts have been working to bolster the muscle of government agencies in nailing violators, according to investigation by Per Second News.

FIRS have achieved mileage in data harmonisation to identify potential taxpayers between various government agencies, including the Nigeria Immigration Service, Nigeria Customs, National Identity Management Commission, Federal Road Safety Corps and others.

The price of getting caught: The federal government has vowed to prosecute, name and shame tax evaders that fail to utilise the tax amnesty programme, the Voluntary Assets and Income Declaration Scheme (VAIDS), from April 1, 2018.

“What follows after the deadline is that we shall follow the laws that deal with tax administration and for those that are not complaint, we shall investigate them and if need be we prosecute them, said FIRS boss Babatunde Fowler.

“We shall take all actions in line with the law, which include the stoppage of their business activities and if need be, the sale of assets, he said.

With the Automatic Exchange of Information (AEol), to which Nigeria is a signatory, the offshore tax shelter system is basically over. Those who have hidden money in overseas account are being exposed.

Per Second News gathered that most Nigerians operating accounts in United Kingdom’s financial institutions like HSBC, Llyods and Barclays bank have received letters requesting proof of tax payments.

New UK and European rules have also tightened regulations and increased taxes for non-UK based buyers of British properties.

Lord Faulks, a former Tory justice minister, and Lord Hodgson in the United Kingdom have been calling on the British government to establish a register exposing the beneficial owners of overseas companies and legal entities, and want it done within 12 months.

British Prime Minister Theresa May will set out a timetable to break the secrecy surrounding the foreign ownership of British property worth billions after facing the House of Lords in January.

“The longer we have to wait for this register, the longer corrupt individuals will be able to use the UK property market to hide their wealth, said Rachel Davies Teka, Head of Advocacy at Transparency International UK.

Nigerians can legally keep their money anywhere in the world, they must first pay any taxes due to the Nigerian Government so that we can fund the needs of the masses and create jobs and wealth for our people,” said Minister of Finanace Kemi Adeosun recently.

Fueling the intensified scrutiny: money, of course, ministry of finance officials told this newspaper.

Starved for revenue, the FIRS has warned that it is evaluating whether to bring criminal charges against tax violators.

But except in particularly egregious circumstances with clear evidence of criminal intent, the focus is on collecting the money, a top presidency official told Per Second News Tuesday night.


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