Current Kebbi State governor Atiku Bagudu is the latest subject in the ongoing expose’ in Pandora Papers for flouting ‘extant laws and legislations’ by hiding assets, tax evasion among others.
Apart from Atiku Bagudu, a number of high-profile persons in Nigerians have been named in the Pandora Papers scandal. The investigation — involving some 600 journalists from media including The Washington Post, the BBC, The Guardian, and Nigeria’s Premium Times — is based on the leak of some 11.9 million documents from 14 financial services companies around the world.
The first expose’ involving a Nigerian leader featured former Anambra State governor Peter Obi who was accused of evading tax and not declaring an offshore asset abroad – in defiance to Nigeria’s Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) which mandates public office holders to declare their assets.
In all, there are 336 politicians listed in the document, according to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), which published the earth-shaking papers on Sunday. The document contains some Nigerian politicians. Premium Times is the only Nigerian newspapers that participated in the investigation.
‘Bagudu ‘stashed’ billions abroad’
A Premium Times report stated that investigators said Bagudu owns huge funds, warehoused offshore, which is part of billions of dollars Bagudu allegedly helped the former Nigerian military ruler Sani Abacha family to move from Nigeria in the 1990s.
Bagudu’s funds and estates of properties stashed abroad are being aided by Asiaciti Trust, an entity known for helping clients hide behind opaque offshore trusts to launder dirty money across borders.
The documents, according to Premium Times, showed how Asiaciti helped Bagudu to set up a multi-layered structure with footprints in at least three countries, namely Singapore, Cook Islands, and the United Kingdom.
Top of the structure owned by Bagudu is the Blue Holdings Trust, registered in Cooks Island as a ‘purpose trust’ to ‘wholly’ own a Singapore-incorporated private trust company, Blue PTC Pte Ltd.
Kebbi State governor’s brother, Ibrahim, and an Asiaciti nominee are listed as Blue Holdings Trust 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 of the 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.
PT said the beneficiaries of each of the family trusts 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 the newspaper 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.
But Bagudu’s lawyer Nicola Boulton of PCB Byrne insisted that “all monies held by the Blue Trusts are lawfully held,”. Boulton said there was a legal settlement in 2003 between the Kebbi State governor and the Nigerian government under then-President Olusegun Obasanjo.
Bagudu-Abacha loot link
Previous and current Nigerian governments have been working with the United States and other international partners to recovered properties looted from Nigeria abroad.
Nigeria’s treaty with the United States has achieved the repatriation of about 3.6 billion U.S. dollars from the Abacha family between 1998 when the former military dictator died and 2020. The last recovery was a $311 million in May 2020.
Nigeria attorney general Abubakar Malami said the litigation process for the return of the assets commenced in 2014 while the diplomatic process that culminated in the signing of the Asset Return Agreement commenced in 2018.
However, a Bloomberg report claimed that the Nigerian government was allegedly working underground with Bagudu to transfer some portion of the Abacha loot to the Kebbi State governor four months before Nigeria received the funds.
United States authorities, according to the report, opposed the Nigerian government’s plans.
The report stated that the Nigerian government said there is a 17-year-old agreement that entitles Bagudu to the funds and prevents Nigeria from assisting the U.S, according to recent filings from the District Court for the District of Columbia in Washington.
United States Department of Justice said in February 2020 said Bagudu with Abacha and Abacha’s son Mohammed Sani Abacha “embezzled, misappropriated and extorted billions from the government of Nigeria and others, then laundered their criminal proceeds through U.S. financial institutions and the purchase of bonds backed by the United States.”
“This case illustrates how complex and contentious repatriating stolen assets to Nigeria can be,” said Matthew Page, an associate fellow at London-based Chatham House and former Nigeria expert for U.S. intelligence agencies.
“Instead of welcoming U.S. efforts, Nigeria’s lawyers appear to be supporting the interests of one of the country’s most powerful families.”
The Nigerian government, however, denies the claims and said it was “mischievous and pedestrian for anyone to seek to turn the law and the facts on its head on the matter of repatriation whose terms are clearly spelt out and agreed among the parties.”