he Pandora Papers is an investigation into a large number of previously hidden offshore companies, revealing secret assets, covert deals, and hidden fortunes of the super-rich – including more than 130 billionaires – and powerful, including more than 30 world leaders and hundreds of former and serving public officials from around the world. It is the world’s largest cross-border journalistic partnership.
In addition, the classified documents also consists of fugitives, prisoners, celebrities, football stars, and others, the sensitive documents include judges, tax authorities, espionage heads, and Governors from around the world.
As you all know, when it comes to crime, corruption and other heinous crimes, our ‘dear’ Nigeria (political class, in this regard) are second to non because they always live up to expectation (of crime).
In the Pandora Papers are a long list of former and serving Nigerian Politicians and business moguls. In this piece, we will dissect a few of them in that document (Pandora Papers) that had been proven beyond reasonable doubt that their intent (foreign bank accounts, businesses, assets, etc.) offshore are shrouded in shady dealings.
Before proceeding any further, it is imperative to understand the term “Tax Haven”.
Tax havens are politically and economically stable offshore territories or countries with complex laws and systems that impose little or no tax requirements while allowing foreign persons and corporations to maintain high levels of confidentiality and anonymity.
The incumbent Governor of Kebbi State, Abubakar Bagudu, deployed a delegation to Singapore in search of a new sanctuary to protect his dubious fortune, which is the subject of ongoing forfeiture actions being carried out by the US Department of Justice.
The Pandora Papers project, sponsored by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, provided the impetus for the probe.
Bagudu assisted the Sani Abacha dynasty in stealing billions of dollars from Nigeria in the 1990s, according to the inquiry.
Bagudu chose Asiaciti Trust, an entity infamous for helping clients hide behind opaque offshore trusts to launder illicit money across borders, after being referred by Farrer & Co., a prestigious centuries-old London legal company that has represented the British Royal Family.
Bagudu’s delegation, which included his brother Ibrahim Bagudu and Ben Davies (a lawyer in the UK) from Byrne and Partners, now a part of PCB Byrne, met with Asiaciti officials on February 23, 2010 and mapped out a new structure of secrecy to further move his dirty wealth for personal and family’s benefit.
The Governor had set up offshore holdings Ridley Trust and Ridley Group in the infamous tax and secrecy havens of Guernsey and the British Virgin Islands in 1997, some 13 years earlier, establishing himself as the unseen but eventual beneficiary. However, in 2010, he desired to terminate the Ridley organization and move his assets to another, necessitating Asiaciti’s assistance in Singapore.
According to a memo from Asiaciti from 2010, the rationale was a lack of control over their stashed assets in cash and otherwise; Ibrahim told the February 2010 meeting that he and his brother who happen to be the client of Ridley Trust had grown wary and uncomfortable with the firm’s modus operandi because they had little or no control over their activity or inactivity, so the fear of them losing out on their stashed assets was constantly mind- bugging them.
He went on to say that any new trustee arrangements in Singapore “must ensure that the family does not lose “control” of the assets.”
In subsequent months after, Ridley transferred 99 million euros in cash and securities to a new organization set up by Asiaciti, which ignored red flags regarding Mr. Abubakar Bagudu’s questionable past and source of income. According to records, Asiaciti acted with the help of Farrer and Co. and Byrne and Partners, which is now a part of PCB Byrne.
Bagudu has long been suspected of being a key figure in the Abacha plot to steal and launder billions of dollars from Nigeria. But it has never been apparent how he put up intricate secrecy structures to hide stolen money, or the role of his facilitators, notably famous British legal firms and the Serious Organised Crimes Agency (SOCA), the forerunner of the National Crime Agency (NCA).
Nigeria’s plan to give over $110 million to Bagudu was thwarted by the United States Government in 2020.
The money is part of the Abacha plunder that will be returned, according to Bloomberg.
The assets of the Kebbi governor were taken with those of Abacha since they were seen as a payment for his “services” to the military ruler.
According to court filings, Bagudu and the Nigerian government reached an agreement in 2018 that resulted in the payment.
Other records revealed that the Muhammadu Buhari administration was vehemently opposing a US government request to interview Bagudu, and his brother, over the laundered funds.
Buhari’s administration also fought against the United States’ attempt to declassify the agreements, allowing them to be scrutinized by the public and used as evidence in court.
The court filings in Nigeria also refuted Bagudu’s allegation that he had done nothing illegal and that the US government was only trying to use him as a pretext to prevent the Nigerian government from recovering Abacha’s looted fund.
One might think that the well-spoken and graciously mannered politician who cares himself with lots of pomp and pride with shoulders raised up all high is one out of the few ‘good’ crop of politicians in Nigeria but, the recent happenings as regard the revelation that the Pandora Papers threw in the air was a big surprise to Nigerians and everyone alike worldwide. Indeed, the good ones are yet to be born in Nigeria.
Peter Obi is the father of two children: Gabriella Nwamaka Frances Obi, a girl, and Gregory Peter Oseloka Obi, a boy. The politician had an urge to start his own hidden company in the British Virgin Islands somewhere in 2010, more than four years after becoming governor. Gabriella Investments Limited is the name he gave to his company in honour of his daughter Gabriella.
Peter Obi first approached Acces International, a secrecy enabler based in Monaco, France, to assist him set up what has now become a complicated business structure. It was to be established in one of the world’s most notorious tax havens, known for acting as conduits for wealthy and privileged corrupt political elites to hide stolen money from tax authorities.
Mr. Peter Obi also hired Acces International to act as the company’s nominated directors. Nominee directors are inhabitants of tax havens who are paid to serve on company boards in order to conceal the names of the true owners of offshore corporations.
So, after receiving a brief from the ex-Governor or an entity acting on his command, Acces International officials traveled to the British Virgin Islands, an infamous tax haven, and hired the services of a local registered agent, Aleman Cordero Galindo & Lee Trust (BVI) Limited (Alcogal), to form Gabriella Investments Limited on his (Peter Obi) behalf.
Alcogal, a Panamanian legal business with international operations, provides company creation and registered agent services in the British Virgin Islands, Seychelles, Belize, and the Bahamas, as well as the drafting of corporate documentation for the companies founded. Its subsidiary trust businesses in Panama, the British Virgin Islands, and Belize provide trust services as well.
Gabriella Investment Limited was formed on November 17, 2010, with the registration number 1615538, following significant documentation. Antony Janse Van Vuuren and Lance Lawson were named as the company’s inaugural directors, with Mr. Obi wielding ultimate authority.
The nominated directors met on the same day the business was created and issued 50,000 shares of Gabriella Investment to Hill International Holding Corporation, a shell International Business Company incorporated under the laws of Belize, another tax haven. Mr. Van Vuuren, who is also a director of Gabriella Investment, serves as the company’s director.
It is rather hazy what Mr. Obi did with the companies (in terms of business transaction), but they were referred to as investment vehicles in several communications.
Gabriella Investment was formed to carry on or execute any business or activity, including commodity or goods dealing, and to do any act or enter into any transactions, according to its Memorandum of Incorporation.
Mr. Obi’s offshore operations have since been reorganized. He began by renaming Gabriella Investment. On February 10, 2017, the firm was renamed PMGG Investments Limited, which is a combination of the initial letters of Mr. Peter Obi’s nuclear family’s first names. P represents Peter (his name), M represents Margaret (his wife’s name), G represents Gabriella (his daughter’s name), and G represents Gregory (his son’s name) respectively.
Mr. Peter Obi has also established The Gabriella Settlement, a trust registered in the British Virgin Islands. A trust is a fiduciary arrangement that allows a third party, or trustee, to hold assets on behalf of a beneficiary or beneficiaries, according to Fidelity Investments. Experts feel that trusts are generally utilized to save taxes, despite the fact that they can provide other estate planning benefits.
The Gabriella Settlement, which appears to hold all or a majority of Mr. Peter Obi’s assets, is the sole shareholder of PMGG Investments, according to the present structure of Mr. Peter Obi’s wealth and offshore enterprises.
Granite Trust Company Limited, a New Zealand firm, is the sole trustee of The Gabriella Settlement. Mr. Obi originally employed Monaco-based secrecy enabler Sam Acces International in 2010 to set up his offshore structure, and he was the sole stakeholder of Granite Trust until August 23, 2019.
Antony Janse Van Vuuren, who has served as a constant and permanent director for practically all of Mr Obi’s offshore corporations, has resurfaced, this time as the sole stakeholder of Granite Trust, through a filing that included another Monaco-based firm, Rhone Acces Sam. Granite Trust’s ultimate holding company is Rhone Trust and Fiduciary S.A., which is based in Switzerland.
Antony Janse Van Vuuren, a 70-year-old South African resident in the principality of Monaco in France, is a central and recurring player in former Governor Obi’s network of offshore corporations, in whom the politician appears to have enormous trust. Monaco is considered a Tax Haven by experts in illicit financial flows because of its favourable tax laws and regulations.
According to KPMG Multi Family Office, the 30,000-person principality does not levy any wealth, property, investment income, or capital gains taxes. It also does not tax dividends and directors’ fees, and resident individuals are not subject to personal income tax unless they are French nationals, and inheritance tax is zero percent for spouses and immediate beneficiaries. It is not certain whether Mr. Peter Obi was drawn to Monaco because of its enticing tax policy.
What is certain is that the politician or his representatives recruited Monaco-based Acces International, where Mr. Van Vuuren has been a partner and director for 25 years, to help him develop a secret and complicated structure for managing his assets in 2010, four years after he became governor.
Mr. Van Vuuren has traveled the world for Mr. Peter Obi, doing errands for him and making big choices on his behalf, from Monaco in France to Tortola in the British Virgin Islands, Wellington in New Zealand, and Geneva in Switzerland.
While Mr. Obi remains hidden behind the scenes, the South African has remained the face of the businesses and assetsof the former Governor. He has been the politician’s top business organizer in the offshore world for the past decade, as well as the custodian of the politician’s business paperwork and correspondences.
Mr. Van Vuuren, a seasoned nominee director for tens or hundreds of shell corporations, earned his bachelor’s degree in commerce, accounting, and business management from the University of KwaZulu-Natal in 1967. In 1977, he graduated from Durham University with a bachelor’s degree in business administration.
According to a 1991 leaked incorporation paper, Peter Obi and two other people namely: Uche Okagbue and Donatus Ogbogu, formed Beauchamp Investments Limited in Barbados.
On August 20, 1991, the firm was registered as an international business company with the number 7305. A certain Peter L. Chase was in charge of the company’s formation at the time. It is uncertain what the company works for a living and what assets it owns. Peter Obi denied knowing anything about the firm or Okagbue and Ogbogu. He speculated that the person who incorporated Beauchamp was another businessman with a name that sounded similar to his own.
However, another of the former Governor’s abroad firms, Next International (UK) Limited, was founded in London on May 16, 1996. Next International (Nigeria) Limited (with 999 ordinary shares) and Mr. Peter Obi (with one ordinary share) were named as directors and stockholders, respectively.
Although the company reported receiving a mortgage from Lloyds TSB Bank Plc for a property on 53 Clyde Road in Croydon on March 8, 2001, the actual businesses it engaged in over its 25-year lifetime remained unknown.
Stay tuned to this portal as we continue to torchlight more Nigerian politicians exposed in the Pandora Papers in our subsequent articles as they unfold.