Home Latest News How mega-rich moguls used their wives to help hide cash

How mega-rich moguls used their wives to help hide cash

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Until the PanamaPapers became public, the names of owners of some screte offshore assets were  hidden. The identities of some women who allegedly acted as fronts to launder cash for their men are now in the open.   

THERE were more revelations yesterday on the membership of the club of glamorous women who acted as smokescreen to launder money for businessmen, politicians, Hollywood actors and sportsmen spouses named as suspected tax cheats in an 11 million documents leaked in the PanamaPapers.

Senate President Bukola Saraki’s wife, Toyin, was a member of the club who featured prominently in the leak.  Her husband battled late Monday to clear his name in what looked like a fresh allegation about his assets.

Saying that he fully complied with the provisions of the law on public officers’ assets declaration, the Senate President said the properties in question belong to his wife’s family.  Saraki’s position was stated in a statement by his Special Adviser on Media and Public Affairs, Mr. Yusuph Olaniyonu.

The report in the PanamaPapers claimed 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, coincides as Saraki battles to extricate himself from corruption allegations.

The Senate President’s False Asset Declaration case came up before the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) in Abuja yesterday. It continues today.

In a written response to the ICIJ, Saraki insisted through his United Kingdom (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”.

In September last year, the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) slammed false assets declaration charges on the Senate President, accusing him of sundry allegations including failure to declare his assets in full.

Saraki listed in his declaration form,  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 she received in January 1989.

Mrs. Saraki was also listed as owner of a property on 15, Bryanston Square, London W1 and on 69, Bourne Street, London.

The Bryanston Square property valued at £900, 000, attracts a rental income £48,000. It was acquired in January 1989. The other on Bourne Street, which was acquired at £2 million for business in April 2000, has a rental value of £150,000.

However, a fresh investigation by Premium Times and its media partners, has uncovered a hidden London property in the name of Toyin Saraki. The property, according to the leak was not among the assets declared by the Senate President.

The hidden property is located at No 8, Whuttaker Street, Belgravia, London SW1W 8JQ. It has title number NGL802235.

In his assets declaration form, the Senate President stated that there was N1.5 million in his wife’s account in the Broad Street, Lagos branch of EcoBank,  at the time he became Kwara State 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.

Saraki was, however, silent on the number of shares his wife 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 first, Girol Properties Ltd, was registered on August 25, 2004 (a year after Mrs. Saraki’s husband became governor in Kwara State) in the British Virgin Island (BVI).

According to the company documents, Mrs. Saraki owns 25,000 shares with a par value of $1 each, and she was appointed the first and only director of the company.

It, however, remains unclear what businesses Mrs. Saraki transacted with the company.

But, in letter to the ICIJ through her lawyers, Mrs. Saraki, has denied ever owning any shareholding in Girol Properties.

The second company, Sandon Development Limited, which has Mrs. Saraki and Babatunde Morakinyo as shareholders, was registered in Seychelles Island on January 12, 2011. Morakinyo of 11, Okeme Street, Lagos, is a long-time personal aide and friend of Dr. Saraki.

According to the company documents of incorporation, 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 and 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 New Gombe Limited  –  both appointed on September 2, 2014. Its agent says Landfield is authorised to issue a maximum of 50,000 no par value shares.

According to Mrs. Saraki, her shares in the company were sold to a third party in January, last year.

The lawyers wrote in their memo to the ICIJ: “The property in question forms part of Dr. Saraki’s wife’s family asset. 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.”

Aside Saraki’s wife, others named uncovered in the leak  include the champagne-loving socialite Mehriban Aliyev, wife of Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev, a professional ice dancer and 2006 Olympic champion married to a prominent Russian diplomat.

Also ‘in the club’ are: spouses of a European Union (EU) Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete (Micaela Domecq Solis-Beaumon); an Icelandic Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson (Anna Sigurlaug Palsdottir) and a former Guinean President  Lansana Conté (Mamadie Touré).

The revelation came after a media probe into millions of documents leaked from a Panama-based law firm exposed a tangle of financial dealings by global elites, from aides of Russian President Vladimir Putin to relatives of Chinese President Xi Jinping, sports celebrities and screen stars.

It has now been established that Solis-Beaumon, the wife of the EU commissioner is linked to Rinconada Investments Group, a Panamanian company registered in 2005.

Meanwhile, the wife of Icelandic Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, who faced tough questions yesterday over links to the offshore banking haven, has also be named as a client of the Panama firm.

The husband and wife team jointly owned a British Virgin Islands shell company called Wintris Inc., which held more than £3 million in bonds in the three major Icelandic banks – those banks collapsed in 2008, and Gunnlaugsson campaigned against bailing out foreign creditors.

It is unclear whether he benefited personally from his political moves.

He sold his 50 per cent share in Wintris to his wife Anna Sigurlaug Palsdottir, the daughter of a wealthy Toyota dealer, before taking office in 2009.

Azerbaijan President’s wife, Mehriban Aliyev, who is herself from a very wealthy family, is also named in the leak.

Her family already leads a charmed life as a result of business interests in almost every sector in the economy, she also leads the Heydar Aliyev Foundation, Azerbaijan’s ‘national’ charity – named after her father-in-law – and is behind the construction of schools, hospitals and the country’s major sports complex.

In documents revealed in the leak, Mehriban was named as one of two managers of the Panamanian UF (Universe Foundation) – which was essentially set up to put her in charge of one of the country’s largest conglomerates Ata Holding.

According to the documents by the ICIJ, Aliyev’s daughters also controlled a Panama-incorporated company and two others in the British Virgin Islands.

The Panamanian company held a significant stake in a consortium of companies exploring goldfields in Azerbaijan.

Aliyev’s sister was the sole shareholder and owner of a BVI company registered in December 2005. The registration records list her at an address in a West London neighborhood where average home prices are more than £6 million.

The fourth woman named in the leak is widow of the former Guinean dictator, the late President Lansana Conté.

United States (U.S.) authorities allege Touré received more than £3.7 million ($5.3 million) in bribes to help a mining company obtain rights to the world’s richest iron ore deposit. In 2014, U.S. authorities raided Touré’s Florida home, seizing properties, restaurant equipment and an ice cream cooler collectively worth more than £700,000 ($1 million).

The wife of Russian diplomat Dmitry Sergeyevich Peskov, Tatiana Navka, is also listed among the alleged clients of the top-secret Panamanian law firm.

The ice dancer and 2006 Olympic champion was listed as the beneficiary of offshore company Carina Global Assets Ltd – based in the British Virgin islands – from its inauguration in 2014, until it was liquidated in November, last year.

She was already romantically involved with Peskov at the time, and their daughter was born in August 2014. They then married in July 2015.

Intriguingly, Peskov’s wife has been quoted as having no knowledge that she ran the company, despite a leaked document saying that its purpose was to ‘buy investment assets to benefit its beneficiary’ – namely her.

‘I have never had any offshore companies or bank accounts,’ said Miss Navka, 40. There were absolutely no foreign companies.’

But, a copy of her passport was in the leaked papers for Carina Global Assets, which has a projected £700,000 ($1 million) assets, it was reported.

When asked if her documents could have been used without her knowledge regarding the offshore operation, she said: ‘I don’t know who might have done it. And personally I would like to figure it out.’

The European Commission defended EU climate commissioner Miguel Arias Canete, saying he appeared to have obeyed its rules by disclosing his wife’s links with a firm caught up in the ‘Panama Papers’ scandal.

Asked about the Panama connection, European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said ‘everything seemed to be in order’ adding that Canete had informed the EU’s executive arm of his and his wife’s business interests when he took up office in 2014.

“His declaration appears to be in compliance with the code of conduct for commissioners as it includes all the professional activities and financial interests of the commissioner’s wife that would pose a potential conflict of interest,” Schinas said.

“As far as the company (Rinconada) referred to in the news is concerned, according to the information given by the commissioner, this company has been inactive for several years before he took office in November 2014,” he added.

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