Tuesday, April 5, 2016 6:33 am
Senate President Bukola Saraki is enmeshed in a fresh hidden asset crisis even as he prepared to face the Code of Conduct Tribunal today for a political survival battle over false asset declaration.
The new trouble emanated from the Panama Papers, a trove of documents hacked from Panama legal firm, Mossack Fonseca, showing many world political leaders and their allies, business leaders, professionals, hiding cash and assets in a labyrinth of offshore companies and banks, to escape the probing eyes of tax authorities.
The papers said to be the biggest leak ever, bigger than WikiLeaks of America’s diplomatic despatches were published by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), with Premium Times in Nigeria as partners.
James Ibori, Saraki’s brother Laolu, his associate Obi Asika were all mentioned in the documents, just like the late father of British Prime Minister David Cameron, friends and allies of Russian President, Vladimir Putin. There were also links to South African President Jacob Zuma, soccer star Lionel Messi and Addo Kuffour, son of former Ghanian President John Kuffuor .
The report in the Panama Papers alleged that at least four assets belonging to the Saraki family, tucked away in secret offshore territories, have been uncovered.
It alleged that the Senate President failed to declare them to the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) as required by Nigerian laws.
This revelation obtained by the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and shared by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) with Premium Times and over 100 other media partners in 82 countries, comes as Saraki battles to extricate himself from allegations of corruption.
The Senate President’s case before the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) is due to begin in Abuja today.
In a written response to ICIJ, the Senate President insisted, through his UK lawyers, that he “declared his assets properly in accordance with the relevant legislation,” and that the charges against him “are both unfounded and politically motivated”.
Last September, the CCB slammed false assets declaration charges on Saraki, accusing the Senate President of among other things, failure to declare his assets in full.
In his declaration form, Saraki listed property owned by his wife, Toyin Saraki, to include a plot of land at Lekki valued at N5 million, which he said was a gift received in January 1989.
Mrs. Saraki was also listed as owner of a property at 15 Bryanston Square, London W1 and 69 Bourne Street, London.
While the first, which rental income was put at £48,000 with a value of £900,000, was acquired in January 1989, the second, which value was put at £2m and had rental value of £150,000, was acquired for business in April 2000.
However, a fresh investigation by Premium Times and its media partners, has uncovered a hidden London property in the name of Toyin Saraki but which was left out among the assets declared by the Senate President.
The hidden property is located at #8 Whuttaker Street, Belgravia, London SW1W 8JQ. It has title number NGL802235.
Similarly, the Senate President stated in his assets declaration form that his wife held an account in EcoBank, Broad Street, Lagos, where she had N1.5 million at the time he became governor in 2003.
She also maintained an account in Coutts & Co Strand, London, where she owned £450,000 and $125,000 in addition to $3 million in Northern Trust International Banking Corporation Merrill Lynch Pierce Fenner.
Mrs. Saraki was also listed as maintaining substantial shares in European and American Trading Company, Tyberry Corporation and Eficaz Limited just as she held 500,000 shares, valued at £500,000 at P.C.C (U.K) Ltd. He was, however, silent on the number of shares the former first lady had in Haussmann and Tiny Tee (Nig) Limited.
Three additional overseas assets in the name of the wife of the Senate President were hidden from the authorities and are missing from the assets declaration form, a report said.
Investigations reveal that Mrs. Saraki owns secret companies in some tax havens.
The hidden assets
The first, Girol Properties Ltd, was registered on August 25, 2004 (a year after Mrs. Saraki’s husband became governor of Nigeria’s north-central state of Kwara) in the British Virgin Island (BVI).
Company documents show that Mrs. Saraki owns 25,000 shares with a par value of US$ 1,00 each, and was appointed the first and only director of the company.
It however remains unclear what businesses Mrs Saraki transacted with the company. Mrs Saraki, however, in a letter to ICIJ, through her lawyers, denies ever owning any shareholding in Girol Properties
The second company, Sandon Development Limited, was registered in Seychelles Island on January 12, 2011 and has Mrs. Saraki and Babatunde Morakinyo (a long-term personal aide and friend of Saraki) of 11 Okeme Street, Lagos, as shareholders.
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.
Perhaps to avoid being identified as the beneficial owner of Sandon, the Senate President’s wife asked Fonsecca to provide nominee directors for the company. Nominee directors are sometimes used in tax havens to conceal real owners of companies and assets.
She then made an undertaking indemnifying the Panamanian company “in respect of all claims, demands, actions, suits, proceedings, costs and expenses whatsoever as may be incurred or become payable by you in respect of or arising out of any member or employee or associate of your company or associated companies holding any office, directorship or shareholdings in the company or by reason of or in consequence of any act or decision made by any such person or company in connection with the management and/or administration of the said company.”
Shortly after the company was incorporated, Mrs. Saraki used it in July 2011 to buy the property on Whuttaker Street, Belgravia, London SW1W 8JQ.
The property, acquired from Renocon Property Limited, a company registered in the British Virgin Island, was never disclosed to Nigerian authorities as required by the country’s code of conduct law.
The third hidden company in the name of Mrs. Saraki is Landfield International Developments Ltd., a company registered in the British Virgin Islands on April 8, 2014. Its 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 authorised to issue a maximum of 50,000 no par value shares.
Mrs. Saraki said she sold her shares in the company to a third party in January last year.
Mr. Laolu Saraki is said to own Polly Capital Holdings Ltd registered in Niue, a small island nation in the South Pacific Ocean.
Another document showed that after some years, Laolu brought in another person as co-owner. The company is now co-owned with a certain Richard Pembroke, who has 25,000 equity shares, just like Laolu.
Laolu’s other offshore companies are co-owned with his associates. Among the co-owners are Kojo Annan, son of former United Nations UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, Asika and Ibidapo.
Laolu and Annan hold equal shares of 25,000 in Blue Diamond Holding Management Corp. The duo, along with Asika, also own Sutton Energy Limited, registered in the British Virgin Island.
Mr. Asika owns 15,000 units of shares, the same amount owned by Laolu Saraki and Kojo Annan. Mr. Asika was a Senior Special Assistant to former President Goodluck Jonathan, and is closely connected to the Sutton Group
Mr. Asika’s profile on the website of the Copyright Society of Nigeria (COSON), of which he is Board member, refers to him as Founding Partner & Executive Director, Sutton Group from June 1999 to October 2002.
The connection between Mr. Annan and Mr. Asika seems clear, as Mr. Annan sits on the Board of Mr. Asika’s other company, Dragon Africa. Additional documents show that the trio – Laolu, Kojo and Asika – also co-own Sapphire Holding Ltd., a company located in Samoa, a tiny Island of an estimated 194,320 people in the South Pacific.
Company documents also indicate that Ensol Limited (Environmental Solutions), registered in the Republic of Seychelles, with registration number 028376, partly belongs to Laolu Saraki
The company is co-owned with Ama Annan, a relative of Kofi Annan (former UN Secretary General), who was appointed director on May 19, 2006 but ceased to be director on July 2, 2008.
Another Nigerian, Ibidapo, was then appointed to replace her on January 4, 2010.
In response to revelations of hidden assets yesterday, Saraki said he fully complied with the provisions of the law on declaration of assets by public officers.
He said he had in his various assets declarations included properties owned individually by himself and his wife.
Saraki’s statement, signed by his Special Adviser (Media and Public Affairs) Yusuph Olaniyonu, said the property in question formed part of his wife’s family assets.
“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.”
The Panama Papers were sent by a mystery man to a German investigative reporter,Bastian Obermayer working with the newspaper, Süddeutsche Zeitung. The newspaper shared the files with the ICIJ which released the first report on Sunday.