The Senate President, Bukola Saraki’s family and a former governor of Delta State, James Ibori, were among some prominent Africans named in a newly discovered secret offshore assets scam released by a German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung.
The German newspaper on Monday released the Panama Papers, the biggest leak in the history of data journalism, publishing online 11.5 million documents from Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, which showed how world leaders, celebrities, athletes, FIFA officials and criminals hid money using anonymous shell corporations across the world.
The Panamanian law firm, regarded as one of the world’s most secretive companies, according to the documents, has helped clients launder money, dodge sanctions and evade tax.
The data was obtained by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung <http://www.sueddeutsche.de/> and shared by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists with over 100 other media partners in 82 countries.
Newsweek quoting the report disclosed that Ibori was linked to four offshore companies including Stanhope Investments, which he allegedly used to open a Swiss bank account. The account, it added, was used by Ibori to channel funds for the purchase of a $20m private jet.
Ibori was governor between 1999 and 2007. He was convicted in 2012 for fraud totalling nearly £50m by a London court and is currently serving a 13-year prison sentence in the UK
It was also alleged that about four assets belonging to the Saraki family were tucked away in secret offshore territories.
The assets were allegedly not part of the ones declared by the Senate President nor his wife, Toyin when Saraki became the governor of Kwara State and after he was sworn in as the nation’s number three citizen.
Quoting the report, Premium Times said the undeclared assets by Saraki include Girol Properties Ltd., Sandon Development Limited, and Landfield International Developments Ltd.
Girol Properties, the report stated, was registered on behalf of Toyin by Fonsecca on August 25, 2004, in the British Virgin Island, a year after her husband, Bukola, became the governor of Kwara State.
It added that the company documents showed that Mrs. Saraki “owns 25,000 numbers of shares with a par value of US$ 1,000 each, and was appointed the first and only director of the company.
Mrs. Saraki, according to the online medium, however, in a letter to ICIJ, through her lawyers, denied ever owning any shareholding in Girol Properties.
According to ICIJ, the second undeclared asset, Sandon Development Limited, was registered in Seychelles Island on January 12, 2011 and had Mrs. Saraki and one Babatunde Morakinyo, of 11 Okeme Street, Lagos, as shareholders.
While incorporating that company, documents show, Mrs. Saraki bought a curious service from Mossack Fonseca & Co, the Panamanian firm that helped her to register the firm.
The online medium noted that this was done by Saraki’s wife in order to avoid being identified as the beneficial owner of Sandon, the Senate President’s wife asked Mossack Fonsecca to provide nominee directors for the company.
Nominee directors, according to the report are sometimes used in tax havens to conceal real owners of companies and assets.
It added that after the company was incorporated, Mrs. Saraki used it in July 2011, to allegedly buy the property on Whuttaker Street, Belgravia, London SW1W 8JQ.
Landfield International Developments Ltd., a company registered in the British Virgin Islands on April 8, 2014. It’s registration number is 1819394 while its registered office is 1 Akara Blog., 24 De Castro Street, Wickhams Cay 1, Road Town, Tortola, British Virgin Island.
According to Mossack Fonseca, the registered agent of the company, Mrs. Saraki, at least until January 27, 2015, was sole shareholder and beneficial owner of the company which had two nominee directors – Glaisd Alie Limited and NewGombe Limited – both appointed on September 2, 2014. Its agent says Landfield is authorized to issue a maximum of 50,000 no par value shares.
However, Mrs Saraki had denied ownership of these companies in a letter her lawyer wrote to the ICIJ.
But Saraki, while reacting to the report, said the assets allegedly linked to him actually belonged to the family of his wife which he was not obliged to declare under the law.
He, however, said he had fully complied with the provisions of the law on the declaration of assets by public officers.
He stated this in a statement issued by his Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Yusuph Olaniyonu.
Saraki said he had, in his different asset declarations, included properties owned individually by himself and his wife.
He explained that the property in question formed part of his wife’s family asset.
The statement partly read, “ It is public knowledge that Mrs. Saraki comes from a family of independent means and wealth with numerous and varied assets acquired over decades in family estates and investments.
“Furthermore, the law only requires a public officer to declare both his own assets and those held by his spouse and his children under 18 years of age. The law does not require a public officer to declare assets held by the spouse’s family.
“It is not expected by the law that a public officer should declare such assets held in the spouse’s family estate. Indeed, the Code of Conduct form does not make provision for declaration of spouse’s family assets.”
Other Africans named in the hidden assets scam included the nephew of embattled South African President Jacob Zuma, Khulubuse Zuma, Kalpana Rawal, the Deputy Chief Justice and Deputy President of Kenya’s Supreme Court.
Some Nigerians and civil right groups who reacted to the fresh scam called for the prosecution of anybody involved in such an illegal transfer of funds.
The Executive Director of CISLAC, Auwal Musa- Rafsanjani, in a telephone interview with The PUNCH, in Abuja, said civil society had for the past 18 years clomoured for a thorough investigation of individuals and corporate organizations such as banks and construction companies that had been used as conduits to fritter away our common patrimony.
The Executive Chairman of the Coalition Against Corrupt Leaders, Mr. Debo Adeniran, said the group could no longer be shocked by any such a revelation, given that the Saraki’s family had been in public office for long and had had for long had access to the country’s resources.
Also, a former Lagos State Police Commissioner, Alhaji Abubakar Tsav, said it was time Nigeria tightened its anti-corruption/ money laundering laws.
He noted that our laws as they were appear to threat economic crimes with levity.
According to him, it is sad that most of our government officials both elected and appointed think more of enriching themselves as soon as they enter office instead of working for the common good.
Tsav said, “The best thing our government can do now is to strengthen our laws to prevent people who stole our common wealth from taking such monies abroad either by themselves or through proxies using offshore accounts.
A security expert, Max Gbanite has said that the United Kingdom law could take its course against Saraki, if it was proven that he had hidden properties and bank accounts in London.
Gbanite said, “If he (Saraki) was found to have hidden properties in UK, the UK law should take its course, if the Federal Government gets a good lawyer. The corruption cases cannot go far if there is no special court and they must not take longer than six months. The EFCC forensic department is capable of finding out if the properties belong to Saraki and this could be proved in court.”
The Executive Director of the Civil Liberties Organisation, Mr. Ibuchukwu Ezike, said the disclosure by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists remained a rumour until properly investigated by authorised agencies.
Ezike said, “Whatever allegations that are being made, the matter is already in court; so, until the court decides on the matter, we cannot have a contrary opinion. We await the outcome of the case.
“The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists is not a prosecuting agency, whatever they say is still like a rumour; they don’t have the power to file charges or prosecute and we know that the matter is in court, we cannot intervene or meddle in a matter that is already in court. The CLO is a law-abiding organisation, we cannot say or do anything that will interfere with the judicial process.”