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Corrupt public officials use real estate investments for money laundering – ICPC

The Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) has stated that corrupt public officials hide under the guise of real estate investments to conceal ill-gotten wealth.

This was stated on Thursday by ICPC chairman, Bolaji Owasanoye when he appeared before the house of representatives ad hoc committee investigating operations of real estate developers in the federal capital territory (FCT).

Speaking at the investigative hearing, Owasanoye said “a lot” of estates in the nation’s capital are without occupants, adding that there is no investor that would build estates and leave them unoccupied.

“Corrupt public officers use real estate investment as a vehicle for hiding ill-gotten wealth and money laundering. Public officers acquire estates in pseudonyms to conceal the illegal origin of funds,” he said.

“This is made possible by the absence of proper documentation, the registration of titles to land and estates in the country and the non-enforcement of beneficial ownership standards.

“A tour around Abuja, especially the metropolis and the central area, would show a lot of estates that are built up but empty. If they had been constructed with funds that were borrowed at market rates, I don’t think any investor would have such proprieties empty; one way or the other, they would put them to use. So it is suspected that some of those estates have been used to launder ill-gotten public funds.

“The commission has, for example, a case in which recovered 241 houses were recovered from a public officer and another one in which we recovered 60 buildings on a large expanse of land from a public officer.

Corruption in real estate aids illicit financial flows. The real estate sector is globally recognised as attractive to IFF largely because it is partially informal, it is not properly regulated, easily open to abuse, the use of shell companies, the use of intermediaries and third parties to acquire real value with proceeds of crimes or illicit funds.

“I must note that major culprits and criminals who are frustrating the problems are the staff of the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA) and their collaborators.”

The ICPC chairman, however, added that the commission has adopted different measures to reduce corruption within the real estate sector.

“The ICPC, over the years, has partnered with a number of relevant registries to scale down the incidents of corruption in land tenure system by intelligence and information sharing, making available our forensic tools to analyse documents and detention of forged documents and by prosecuting offenders,” he said.

“The commission has at various times commended administrative resolution, where FCDA is required to remedy whatever went wrong and to reallocate or to withdraw and allocation depending on what is the proper justice of the case at the time.

“This is aside from prosecution of offenders where the infractions are found and breaches of relevant laws are established and in some cases, ill acquired assets are recovered and returned to victims.”

He also told the lawmakers that efforts should be made to provide transparency in mass housing projects by “providing workable evaluation mechanisms to eliminate corruption generally that dog these schemes”.

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