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Pandora Papers: Obi, ex-CJN, clergy, other top politicians fingered in money laundering

Pandora Papers, one of the biggest leaks of financial documents in the world, has exposed the secret wealth and dealings of world leaders, politicians and…

Pandora Papers, one of the biggest leaks of financial documents in the world, has exposed the secret wealth and dealings of world leaders, politicians and billionaires.

Nigerians and Africans are not exceptions in the 35 current and former leaders and more than 300 public officials that have featured in the files from offshore companies.

Following FinCen Files, Paradise Papers, Panama Papers and LuxLeaks, this is the latest in a string of leaks.

A former governor of Anambra State, Peter Obi; a former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Pastor and many other high-profile Nigerians have been fingered in money laundering cases, flouting “extant laws and legislations” as they hide their assets in the notorious secrecy jurisdictions.

Obi reportedly admitted that he did not declare companies and the funds and properties they hold in his asset declaration filings with the Code of Conduct Bureau, a federal government agency that deals with the issues of corruption, conflict of interest, and abuse of office by public servants.

The former governor said he was unaware that the law expected him to declare assets or companies he jointly owns with his family members or anyone else.

He contracted Acces International, a secrecy enabler in Monaco, France, to help him incorporate an offshore entity in one of the world’s most notorious tax havens noted for providing conduits for the wealthy and privileged corrupt political elites to hide stolen money.

According to reports, the former Anambra State governor also paid Acces International to provide nominee directors for the company — these directors are residents of tax havens paid to sit on boards of companies to hide the identities of real owners of offshore firms.

Acces International officials, who reportedly took briefs from Obi and or his representatives, headed to the British Virgin Island where they contracted a local registered agent – Aleman Cordero Galindo & Lee Trust (BVI) Limited (Alcogal) — to set up Gabriella Investments Limited for the former governor.

“I don’t declare what is owned by others. If my family owns something I won’t declare it. I didn’t declare anything I jointly owned with anyone,” he said.

Other Nigerians indicted include: former state governors, past and present lawmakers, businesspeople, a popular pastor, and many others, according to reports.

The investigation is part of the global International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ)-led Pandora Papers project.

The project saw 600 journalists from 150 news organisations around the world poring through a trove of 11.9 million confidential files, contextualising information, tracking down sources and analysing public records and other documents.

From Africa, the huge leak named President Uhuru Kenyatta, among leaders that secretly owned a network of offshore companies for decades, while six members of his family have also been linked to 13 offshore companies.

The Kenyattas’ offshore investments, including a company with stocks and bonds worth $30 million, were discovered among hundreds of thousands of pages of administrative paperwork from the archives of 14 law firms and service providers in Panama and the British Virgin Islands (BVI) and other tax havens.

The secret assets were uncovered by an investigation, published earlier by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), Finance Uncovered, Africa Uncensored and other news organisations.

Documents show that a foundation called Varies was set up in 2003 in Panama, naming Kenyatta’s mother, Ngina, 88, as the first benefactor, and Kenya’s leader as the second benefactor, who would inherit it after her death.

The purpose of the foundation and the value of its assets are unknown.

There’s no reliable estimate of the Kenyatta family’s net worth but its vast business interests span transport, insurance, hotels, farming, land ownership and the media industry in Kenya.

In 2018, Kenyatta told the BBC Hardtalk programme that his family’s wealth was known to the public, and that as president, he had declared his assets as required by law.

In the same interview, Mr Kenyatta said he wanted fighting corruption and promoting transparency to be his legacy.

He promised to work with parliament to create a law that would oblige public officials to declare their wealth, but MPs are yet to pass this bill.

The leaked financial documents also show how the King of Jordan secretly amassed a property empire in the UK and US worth more than £70m (over $100m).

They identify a network of offshore companies in the British Virgin Islands and other tax havens used by Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein to buy 15 homes since he assumed power in 1999.

They include £50m on three adjacent ocean view properties in Malibu, California, and properties in London and Ascot in the UK. His property interests have been built up as King Abdullah has been accused of presiding over an authoritarian regime, with protests taking place in recent years amid austerity measures and tax rises.

Lawyers for King Abdullah said all the properties were bought with personal wealth, which he also used to fund projects for Jordan’s citizens.

They said it was common practice for high profile individuals to purchase properties via offshore companies for privacy and security reasons.

The leak also showed that Russian President Vladimir Putin has secret assets in Monaco, and Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis failed to declare an offshore investment company used for purchasing two villas for £12 million in the south of France. 

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and his family were also accused of looting their own country. Investigation found that the Aliyevs and their close associates have secretly been involved in property deals in the UK worth more than £400m.

The boy who owned a £33m London property

Other documents show how Azerbaijan’s ruling Aliyev family have secretly acquired UK property using offshore companies.

The files show how the family – long accused of corruption in the European nation – bought 17 properties, including a £33m office block in London for the president’s 11-year-old son Heydar Aliyev.

The building in Mayfair was bought by a front company owned by a family friend of President Ilham Aliyev in 2009.

It was transferred one month later to Heydar.

The research also reveals how another office block owned by the family nearby was sold to the Crown Estate for £66m in 2018.

The Crown Estate said it carried out the checks required in law at the time of purchase but is now looking into the matter.

Also, former Labour prime minister, Tony Blair and his barrister wife, Cherie, acquired a building in Marylebone, Central London, in July 2017 by buying the offshore company that owned it.

It is legal to acquire properties in the UK in this way and stamp duty does not have to be paid – but Mr Blair has previously been critical of tax loopholes.

The townhouse in Marylebone is now home to Mrs Blair’s legal consultancy, which advises governments around the world, as well as her foundation for women.

Mrs Blair said the sellers had insisted they buy the house through the offshore company.

She said they had brought the property back under UK rules and will be liable to pay capital gains tax if they sell it in future.

The ultimate owners of the property were a family with political connections in Bahrain – but both parties say they did not initially know who they were dealing with

Other world leaders named in the Pandora Papers include Gabon’s President Ali Bongo Ondimba and President of Congo-Brazzaville Denis Sassou-Nguesso.

The documents reveal the owners of some of the 95,000 offshore firms behind the purchases.

It also highlights the UK government’s failure to introduce a register of offshore property owners despite repeated promises to do so, amid concerns some property buyers could be hiding money-laundering activities.

The Pandora Papers, the biggest cross-border collaboration of journalists in history, is an investigation into a vast amount of previously hidden offshore companies, exposing secret assets, covert deals and hidden fortunes of the super-rich – among them more than 130 billionaires – and the powerful, including more than 30 world leaders and hundreds of former and serving public officials across the world.

The confidential documents also feature a global cast of fugitives, convicts, celebrities, football stars and others, including judges, tax officials, spy chiefs and mayors.

The leaked records came from 14 offshore services firms from around the world that set up shell companies and other offshore nooks for clients like Obi, who seek to shroud their financial activities, often suspicious, in secrecy.

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