Nigerians Who Own Property In UK Panic Over New Law

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Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun

Officials of the Federal Ministry of Finance and the Federal Inland Revenue Service, FIRS, involved in Voluntary Assets and Income Declaration Scheme, VAIDS, said they have been inundated with calls from Nigerians in the United Kingdom seeking to inquire about how the new UK government Unexplained Wealth Orders, UWOs would affect their property in that country.

A source close to the finance ministry said on Sunday that the pressure from Nigeria property owners in United Kingdom was so overwhelming on Friday that at a point the dedicated hotlines for inquires crashed due to excessive pressure.

The source who requested that his name should not be revealed as he was not authorised to speak on the issue said the volume of inquiries have been overwhelming, particularly in the last 72 hours after the UK government announced the new UWOs regulation.

The UK government’s UWO which came into effect last week requires foreign owners of properties in the country to furnish the relevant tax authorities with details of the source of funding for such properties or risk forfeiture.

Under the new law, property owners could forfeit any property or a combination of properties valued at about £50,000 (about N25 million) or above, for which there are no adequate explanation on the legal source of funding for the acquisition of such properties.

Property owners appear to be battling with a two-pronged pressure to keep their assets from tax authorities in Nigeria and abroad.

Apart from the UK government’s UWO, the then Acting President Yemi Osinbajo had signed an executive order on June 29, 2017, to introduce a new tax policy, VAIDS, granting amnesty by way of full immunity from prosecution for tax defaulters.

Under VAIDS, tax defaulters would between June 1, 2017 and March 31, 2018 be allowed to regularise their tax status relating to previous tax periods if they voluntarily come forward to publicly declare their default.

But, taking advantage of the tax information exchange policy with foreign governments, Finance Minister Kemi Adeosun said the federal government had written to a number of foreign governments to request specific information about offshore trusts and bank accounts held by Nigerians.