#PanamaPapers: How ex-NNPC boss incorporated secret company in tax haven to partly own Ghana’s top hotel

Kempinski Accra Hotel

Funsho Kupolokun, 69, a former group managing director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, is one of the largest shareholders in one of Ghana’s biggest hotels, the Kempinski Accra Hotel, a 269-luxury rooms five-star facility.

But a peripheral look at the company’s records will not reveal this fact because in 2013, Mr Kupolokun, who was head of the NNPC between 2003 and 2007, decided to use a shadowy offshore company registered in Mauritius, a known tax haven, to hide his shares in the company that owns the hotel.

The company, Gold Coast Resorts International Limited, is an entity incorporated in the British Virgins Island in 2006.

Details obtained by PREMIUM TIMES from the leaked Mossac Fonseca’s database showed that Mr Kupolokun became director of Gold Coast Resorts on August 11, 2008 and personally held 17.23 per cent shares in the company.

Correspondence between Mossac Fonseca and a London-based law firm representing Mr Kupolokun, Kennedys Law LLP, revealed that the former aide to ex-president Olusegun Obasanjo, authorized the transfer of his shares in Gold Coast to Blue Chapel, a company registered in Mauritius (another tax haven), in January 2013.

At a point, Mossac Fonseca raised concern about Mr. Kupolokun after its compliance unit identified press reports accusing the former NNPC chief of corruption.

In response, on September 7, 2014, Mr. Kupolokun wrote,

“Thanks so much, I now know what is being referred to.

“It was a press article in 2007 in which some allegations had been made in relation to my position of office.

“My name was never struck off as a director anywhere.

“Specifically,regarding the Press Article,I immediately took the Press to court for false information and libelious materials against my name.

“On 7th march 2012,Hon Justice A.O Opesanwo entered judgement upon the terms of settlement dated 5th march 2012.The terms include that the defendants ,retracts and shall within fourteen days of execution of the document, publish a retraction of the offensive publications aforesaid on its front page and give same prominence in the same manner on the libelous publications made by the defendant against the claimant.

“The 1st defendant shall also within seven (7) days of the execution of this document send to the claimant a full and unqualified written apology for the libelous publication.

“Consequent upon this,the Defendant made the publications in Nigerian Newspapers and forwarded an apology entitled “REGRETABLE MALIGNMENT OF YOUR PERSON.

“In the apology,the Managing Director/Editor-in-chief of the Newspaper wrote ‘We wish to admit that the two publications lacked substance and were not submitted to the critical tests of veracity and fairness at the time they were published. The development is therefore, a reckless abuse of media power. Specifically, it is not true that you, Engineer Funsho Kupolokun, compromised your office as the GMD of NNPC or that you were fingered in massive corruption in Nigeria’s oil and gas industry or that the companies you directly or indirectly owned cornered juicy contracts during the time you were the corporation’s helmsman, beginning from 2003.'”

Responding to a PREMIUM TIMES enquiry on the matter, Mr. Kupolokun confirmed his interest in Gold Coast Resorts, saying he was merely invited into the investment.

Funsho Kupolokun
Funsho Kupolokun

“That was after I left office,” Mr. Kupolokun said. “The first money I invested was two million dollars, and I got that from UBA.”

He did not say why he transferred his shares to a shell company offshore, which means it would be difficult to identify him as shareholder in Gold Coast Resorts, owner of the exotic hotel.

But by adopting that business strategy, Mr Kupolokun only emulated other major shareholders of the Gold Coast Resorts, who all hold shares in the company through shell companies in tax havens.

Gold Coast Resorts is clearly a web of offshore entities, with the largest shareholder of the company (45 per cent) being Zakham International SA, an entity registered in another tax haven, Luxembourg.

At least two other shareholders of the Gold Coast Resorts – Bethana Investments Inc and Uridor Investments SA- were registered in Panama, another known offshore tax haven.

The government of Ghana, through the Ghana Tourist Board, owns 10 per cent of Gold Coast Resorts, which has since obtained a controversial $16 million loan facility from the African Development Bank (ADB), to finance the construction of Kempinski Accra Hotel.

A Gold Coast implicated in string of Illegalities in Ghana

Media reports in Ghana suggest that Gold Coast may have breached due process in the way it obtained the $16 million loan for the construction of the Kempinski Accra Hotel as well as the 300,000 square meters of government land in Accra.

The Enquirer, a Ghanain newspaper, reported that Gold Coast did not obtain the requisite parliamentary approval before acquiring the loan from ADB.

According to the newspaper, even before the matter was presented to the Ghanaian parliament, Paul Afoko, a shareholder of Gold Coast and the public face of the company in Ghana, alongside two other officials of the firm, signed an agreement that read: “Government of Ghana warrants that it has obtained all necessary governmental approvals and other requisite consents in connection with the above, including but not limited to, all requisite parliamentary approvals.”

Gold Coast secured the choice government land on which it built the luxury Kempinski Hotel in 2006 using the false claim, reports said.

According to the Enquirer, the parliamentary approval it should have obtained in the first place was granted on October 31, 2008, almost two years after the loan agreement was signed and 10 months after the same agreement was used by the promoters of the company to obtained the ADB loan.

The Ghanaian parliament, accused of jettisoning its oversight functions as required by the country’s law in such transaction, also did not mention that the approval to offer the 300,000 square metre land to Gold Coast also included an agreement by the Ghana Tourist Board, to cede nearby Accra international Conference Centre and the Accra Sports Stadium to the offshore firm, the paper claimed.


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