#PanamaPapers: Hidden family assets of Nigeria’s Senate President, Saraki, uncovered in tax havens
At least four assets belonging to the wealthy and famous Saraki family of Nigeria, all tucked away in secret offshore territories, have been uncovered.
But the President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki, failed to declare them to the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) as required by Nigerian laws.
This revelation, made possible by internal data of the Panama-based offshore-provider, Mossack Fonseca, 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, could worsen Mr. Saraki’s case as he battles to extricate himself from allegations of corruption.
Mr. Saraki is yet to respond to PREMIUM TIMES’ request for comments. His spokesperson, Yusuph Olayinonu, did not return calls or respond to a text message seeking comments.
But 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 asset declaration charges on Mr. Saraki, accusing the Senate President, among other things, of failure to declare his assets in full.
Under the code of conduct law, a public office holder is required to declare his own assets, those of his wife as well as assets in the names of his children below the age of 18.
In his declaration form, Mr. 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 he 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 Eco Bank 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 $3 million in Northern Trust International Banking Corporation Merrill Lynch Pierce Fenner.
Mrs. Saraki was also listed as maintaining substantial shares in European and American Trading Company, Tyberry Corporation and Eficaz Limited just as she held 500,000 shares, valued at £500,000, at P.C.C (U.K) Ltd. He was however silent on the number of shares the former first lady had in Haussmann and Tiny Tee (Nig) Limited.
Elaborate as the declaration in the name of Mrs. Saraki appeared to be, PREMIUM TIMES can authoritatively report that apart from the undeclared London property, three additional overseas assets in the name of the wife of the Senate President were hidden from the authorities and are missing from the assets declaration form.
Our investigations reveal that Mrs. Saraki owns secret companies in some notorious tax havens.
The hidden assets
The first, Girol Properties Ltd, was registered on August 25, 2004 (a year after Mrs. Saraki’s husband became governor of Nigeria’s north-central state of Kwara) in the British Virgin Island (BVI).
Company documents show that Mrs. Saraki owns 25,000 numbers of shares with a par value of US$ 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 one Babatunde Morakinyo, (a long-term personal aide and friend of Mr. Saraki) 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.
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. 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.
“In so far as is evidenced by the documents filed at the Registered Ofﬁce, the Company is in existence and, in good standing,” Mossack Fonseca recently said of Landfield in response to an enquiry by one Laura Templeman, a Senior Associate for Ogier Group, a law firm based in the British Virgins Island. “According to the documents ﬁled on the Company’s ﬁle as at 27th January, 2015, there are no actions, pending or threatened against the Company and no action has been taken to wind up the Company or to appoint a receiver or manager.”
Mrs. Saraki said she sold her shares in the company to a third party in January 2015, but PREMIUM TIMES is yet to sight any document to that effect.
In July 28, 2015, Mrs Toyin Saraki, who was the first lady of Kwara State between 2003 and 2011, was interrogated by Nigeria’s anti-graft agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), in relation to awards of contracts during her husband’s tenure as governor.
The EFCC has not taken further actions since her interrogation, and nothing has been heard of the case since then.
A troubled husband
Mrs Saraki’s husband, Bukola, who is Nigeria’s third most powerful official by virtue of his position as Senate President, is facing a 13-count charge of alleged false declaration of assets.
He is being tried by the Code of Conduct Tribunal, a special court that tries public officers for any contravention of the Code of Conduct for Nigerian public officers as spelt out in the Fifth Schedule of the Nigerian constitution.
The Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) and the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) were established to enforce “a high standard of morality in the conduct of government business, and to ensure that the actions and behaviour of public officers conform to the highest standards of public morality and accountability.”
The Code of Conduct Bureau had on September 16, 2015 slammed charges on Mr. Saraki, accusing him of offences ranging from anticipatory declaration of assets, to making false declaration of assets in forms he filed before the Bureau while he was governor of Kwara state.
The Senate President was also accused of failing to declare some of his assets, acquiring assets beyond his legitimate earnings, and operating foreign accounts while being a public officer – governor and senator.
The offences, the charge said, violated sections of the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, as amended.
Mr. Saraki is also said to have breached Section 2 of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act and punishable under paragraph 9 of the said Fifth Schedule of the Constitution.
The Senate President has denied wrongdoings, saying the case was politically motivated and that he was merely being persecuted for emerging the President of the Nigerian Senate against the wishes of his political party, the ruling All Progressives Congress, which preferred a different candidate.
But this fresh revelation regarding hidden assets in tax havens might fuel the allegations against Nigeria’s third most powerful official and strengthen the prosecution’s case against the politician.
The Saraki family and ownership of offshore companies
Apart from Toyin Saraki, another member of the Saraki family popped up repeatedly as PREMIUM TIMES and its partners conducted a year-long investigation into the leaked Mossack Fonseca internal documents, which contained 2.6 TB files, involved 214,488 entities, and revealed hundreds of details about how former gun-runners, contractors and other members of the spy world use offshore companies for personal and private gain.
Laolu Saraki, brother to Senate President Saraki, also has several footprints in offshore financial havens, documents show. A number of shell companies are connected to the younger Saraki.
He is sole shareholder in some of the companies while sharing ownership with some business partners in others.
For example, documents show that Laolu is the owner of 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 UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan; Obi Asika; Olufela Ibidapo who are all known figures in Nigeria.
Laolu and Kojo Annan hold equal shares of 25,000 in Blue Diamond Holding Management Corp. The duo, along with Mr. 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 another 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.
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, Olufela Ibidapo, was then appointed to replace her on January 4, 2010.
Mr. Ibidapo is the current Head of Corporate Affairs at Heritage Bank, a successor bank to the defunct Societe Generale Bank of Nigeria, largely owned by the Saraki family but whose operational license was revoked by the Central Bank of Nigeria in January 2006 following the re-capitalisation policy in the banking sector.
The bank however returned with a new name (Heritage Bank) in 2012 following the order of the Federal High Court, compelling the central bank to restore its operational permit after it declared that it had amassed the required capital base to return to business.
It however remains unclear why the Saraki’s incorporated the offshore companies linked to them or what businesses they transacted with the entities.
While that may not be the case with the Sarakis, some business people in Nigeria and elsewhere are known to have created Shell companies offshore for a host of dodgy business reasons, which include hiding assets, avoiding tax or as fronts for illegal deals. Shell companies are however not entirely illegal, and not all owners use them for dubious purposes.
We have done nothing wrong – the Sarakis
Mr. Saraki and his wife denied any wrongdoing.
Responding to separate written demands for comments, the couple maintained that it is not illegal to hold shares in offshore companies.
In a letter to ICIJ by the London-based law firm of Discreet Law, Mr. Saraki said he declared his assets properly in accordance with the relevant Nigerian legislation.
Mrs. Saraki, in a separate letter to the ICIJ through another London-based law firm, Harbottle & Lewis, also insisted that she “made all required disclosures in relation to her shareholdings.”
In their separate letters, the couple threatened to sue should the ICIJ and its partners proceed to publish information about the undeclared offshore assets, with Mrs Saraki saying any publication concerning her private financial information infringes on her privacy and breaches the Data Protection Act 1998.
Will Fitzigibbon (International Consortium of Investigative Journalists), contributed reporting to this story.