A massive global investigation has revealed ties between High-Profile Nigerians to the hidden world of offshore wealth collectively worth trillions of dollars.
The files expose how some of the most powerful people in the world – including more than 330 politicians from 90 countries – use secret offshore companies to hide their wealth.
Pandora Papers investigation – led by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, including more than 600 journalists and about 150 news organisations worldwide – uncovered financial secrets, including those of politicians, former and serving public officials, known and suspected kleptocrats amassing illicit wealth.
The content revealed how some Nigerians established shell companies and sometimes warehouse huge financial assets in secrecy.
Some of the Nigerians involved in the leak included an ex-governor, a current governor, lawmakers, business moguls, a pastor, among others:
Peter Obi: The first series published on Monday showed that Peter Obi allegedly kept secret assets he did not declare to the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) before assuming office as governor.
in 2010, more than four years after Obi took a seat of power, he allegedly set up a discreet company in the British Virgin Island, and named it Gabriella Investments Limited, after his daughter.
Obi allegedly contracted Acces International, a secrecy enabler in Monaco, France, to help him incorporate an offshore entity.
Obi also allegedly paid Acces International to provide nominee directors for the company. These residents of tax havens were “paid” to sit on boards of companies to hide the identities of the real owners.
Access International then 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 Obi.
Mohammed Bello-Koko: Another prominent figure whose London property appears in the data is Mohammed Bello-Koko, 52, the finance director of the powerful Nigerian Ports Authority, and reportedly, also, its acting managing director.
For much of his career, he worked in banking, working for 10 years at Zenith Bank, where he rose to be a deputy general manager.
According to the Pandora Papers, Bello-Koko and his wife were the anonymous owners behind two companies incorporated in the BVI.
Searches at the Land Registry showed that these companies bought five London properties between 2009 and 2017, for a combined total of almost £1.5 million. One of the properties has since been sold.
Elsewhere in the Pandora Papers, a 2017 letter from law enforcement officials in the BVI requested information about these BVI companies — together with seven other companies — in relation to an investigation into financial offences, including money laundering.
Alemán, Cordero, Galindo & Lee (Alcogal), the BVI registered agent for the companies, wrote back saying: “To the best of our knowledge, these companies do not have any assets or bank accounts held in their name.”
Asked why it had not mentioned the UK properties, Alcogal explained that it was only obliged to provide law enforcement officials with the information that it holds in its records.
Finance Uncovered wrote to Mr Bello-Koko and his wife but they did not respond.
We have seen no evidence that law enforcement enquiries in the BVI led to further action against Mr Bello-Koko, his wife or their property-owning companies.
Stella Oduah: Nigeria’s former aviation minister Stella Oduah. now 59, was also mentioned. She served under ex-President Goodluck Jonathan from 2011 until 2014 when she resigned amid serious corruption allegations, which she denied.
Ms Oduah was never charged on those allegations but she has since been indicted on separate money laundering offences relating to alleged fraud. Ms Oduah, who remains a senator, has always denied accusations of wrongdoing.
Investigations suggests she secretly bought London property. A confidential US suspicious activity report by Deutsche Bank suggested that a company owned by Ms Oduah made a suspicious payment of almost $72,000 to a London property broker in 2012.
A search of Land Registry records then showed that one month later another company, registered in Seychelles paid £5.3 million for a London townhouse.
The Seychelles company shared a name with another one owned by the Oduah family.
When asked to confirm that Ms Oduah, her family or associates, were involved in buying the London property, neither responded.
The Deutsche Bank suspicious activity report is part of the FinCEN Files, a leak of documents obtained by BuzzFeed News and shared with other journalists through the ICIJ.
It is not known whether any further action was taken as a result of the suspicious activity report.
Atiku Abubakar Bagudu: The investigation also revealed how the current Governor of Kebbi State, Atiku Abubakar Bagudu helped the Sani Abacha family to steal from Nigeria in the 1990s.
In 2010, Bagudu, then a senator, allegedly dispatched a delegation to Singapore in search of a new haven to shelter his controversial wealth, which is a target of ongoing forfeiture proceedings by the United States Department of Justice.
Bagudu’s delegation – comprising his brother, Ibrahim Bagudu, and London lawyer, Ben Davies, from Byrne and Partners, now a part of PCB Byrne – met with Asiaciti’s officials, they registered his preference for a new structure of secrecy to oil the flow of his dirty wealth for the benefits of himself and his family.
Investigators say the huge funds, warehoused offshore, is part of billions of dollars Mr Bagudu helped the Sani Abacha family to steal from Nigeria in the 1990s.
Referred by Farrer and Co., a prestigious centuries-old London law firm representing the British royal family, Mr Bagudu’s choice of secrecy provider in Singapore was Asiaciti Trust, an entity notorious for helping clients hide behind opaque offshore trusts to launder dirty money across borders.
Bagudu’s choice of secrecy provider in Singapore was Asiaciti Trust, an entity notorious for helping clients hide behind opaque offshore trusts to launder dirty money across borders.
The Monetary Authority of Singapore, MAS, imposed a fine of one million and a hundred thousand dollars on Asiaciti in July 2020 for “serious breaches” of Anti-Money Laundering and Countering Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) regulations between 2007 and 2018.
Bagudu is long known to have played an instrumental role in the Abacha conspiracy to steal and launder billions of dollars belonging to Nigeria but how he set up complicated structures of secrecy to hide stolen money as well as the role of his enablers, including prestigious British law firms and Serious Organised Crimes Agency (SOCA), the predecessor of the National Crimes Agency (NCA), has never been crystal clear.
Asiaciti helped Mr Bagudu set up a multi-layered structure with footprints in at least three countries, namely Singapore, Cook Islands, and the United Kingdom. At the head of the structure is Blue Holdings Trust, registered in Cooks Island as a “purpose trust” to “wholly” own a Singapore-incorporated private trust company, Blue PTC Pte Ltd., with Mr Bagudu’s brother, Ibrahim, and an Asiaciti nominee as directors.
The Blue PTC Pte Ltd is, in turn, the trustee of two family trusts – Blue Family Trust (1) and Blue Family Trust (2). Under each trust, then, is a Singapore family-owned investment holding company, FHIC, Blue Holdings (1) Pte Limited, and Blue Holdings (2) Pte Limited, respectively.
Each FHIC has an investment account with Waverton Investment Management, formerly JO Hambro Investment Management, and James Hambro and Partners, both London-based firms. Assets kept with the two firms are now frozen, according to U.S. court documents.
America has been at the forefront of helping Nigeria recover the Abacha loot, saying that hundreds of millions of dollars stolen were laundered through banks under its jurisdiction.
“The beneficiaries of each family trust and the corresponding investments domiciled in London were Mr Bagudu, his wife, seven children, and his brother, Ibrahim.
“In September 2010, according to minutes of some meetings we reviewed, a sum of 99 million euros was moved from Ridley through the Blue PTC in Singapore to the investment accounts in London and distributed as follows:
Blue Holdings (1) (17,007,016 euros): Waverton – seven million euros; James Hambro – 10,007,016 euros.
Blue Holdings (2) (81,841,163 euros): Waverton – 23 million euros; James Hambro – 58,841,163 euros,” the collaborator said.
Between 1998, when the military head of state, Sanni Abacha, suddenly died, and 2020, 3.6 billion U.S. dollars have been reportedly recovered from the Abacha family and their most prolific man Friday, Bagudu.
The 163 million U.S. dollars recovery from Jersey in 2003 directly involved Bagudu, who then negotiated a deal with the U.S. and Jersey to return the funds to Nigeria in exchange for Jersey’s withdrawal of an extradition request and his free return to Nigeria.
Bagudu spent six months in American federal prison in Houston while awaiting extradition to Jersey.
The deal to return the $163 million was to avoid that extradition.
Also, the latest recovery – 308 million U.S. dollars from Jersey in 2020 – was laundered by Mr Bagudu.
Mr Bagudu was involved with all the offshore front companies and bank accounts – from the British Virgin Islands to Ireland, Switzerland, England, Guernsey, and Jersey – used to steal and launder billions of dollars belonging to Nigeria under the Abacha regime as a director, signatory on accounts or prime beneficiary, according to U.S. court documents and incorporation filings from the Pandora Papers leaks.
In pushing for the forfeiture of stolen funds laundered through the U.S., American investigators said the criminal network used fraudulent schemes to make dirty money, according to court documents.
One was “security vote fraud,” whereby Mr Abacha and his National Security Adviser Ismaila Gwarzo and others were said to have stolen more than two billion U.S. dollars by “fraudulently and falsely representing that the funds were to be used for national security purposes.” Between 1994 and 1998, they were said to have made over 60 false claims of “security emergencies” to withdraw huge funds from the Central Bank of Nigeria, then headed by Paul Ogumah.
“Rather than use the funds for national security purposes, the stolen money was transported out of Nigeria and deposited into accounts controlled by General Abacha’s associates, including Mohammed Abacha and Mr Bagudu,” the court in Washington, D.C. was told.
Other schemes were bribery and a dramatic conspiracy by Mr Abacha’s son, Mohammed, and Mr Bagudu to lend money stolen from Nigeria back to Nigeria “with zero risks and at an enormous profit” by using proceeds of the security vote fraud to purchase hundreds of millions of dollars of U.S. dollar-denominated Nigerian bonds, called Nigerian Par Bonds, NPBs.
In another scheme, the conspirators were also said to have defrauded Nigeria of more than 282 million U.S. dollars by causing the government to repurchase Nigeria’s debt from one of their companies for more than double what Nigeria would have paid repurchase the debt in the open market.
According to American investigators, the initial funding of Mr Bagudu’s Ridley’s account at Credit Agricole Indosuez, London, to the tune of 90 million U.S. dollars in 1998, was from the Par bonds and the debt-buy-back fraud.
Between the time the Blue structure was created in 2010 and when its assets were frozen in 2014, 4.6 million dollars or 6.8 million euros was disbursed for Mr Bagudu’s children’s education and the “generous” lifestyle his family “was accustomed to”.
The transferred sum included one hundred thousand dollars annuity to his brother Ibrahim and another three million U.S. dollars moved into Ibrahim’s bank account for “investment in real estate and property development in Abuja.”
A breakdown of disbursements showed that 100 thousand U.S. dollars were advised to be paid out for Mr Bagudu’s “son’s school fees” days after Farrer and Co’s Ms Davidson helped him pressure Asiaciti.
But beyond the role played by British firms in the Bagudu shenanigans, the British public service institution was also involved, documents suggested.