EXCLUSIVE: Hidden assets of Nigerian governor uncovered in offshore tax havens

Harvey Lodge, Admiral Walk, London. [Photo Credit: https://onthemarket.com]
Harvey Lodge, Admiral Walk, London. [Photo Credit: https://onthemarket.com]

Secret assets belonging to the current governor of Niger State, Abubakar Bello, have been uncovered in offshore tax havens, including the notorious British Virgin Islands.

The discoveries were made as PREMIUM TIMES continues to scrutinize the over 11 million Mossack Fonseca documents contained in the sleaze dossier now known worldwide as the Panama Papers.

At least two offshore companies were traced to the governor, one of which was used to acquire a property on Harvey Lodge London.

One of the companies, Best International Holding Limited, was registered in 1999 in the British Virgin Islands. The company was registered on May 26, 1999 with $50,000 as shares capital.

The company, with registration number 314717, has the governor and his son, Shehu Bello, as directors.

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Governor Bello himself is the son of Sani Bello , a retired colonel and military governor of Kano State between 1975 and 1978.

Tax authorities the world over view the British Virgin Islands with a certain level of notoriety and suspicion.

READ MORE OF OUR GROUNDBREAKING PANAMA PAPERS REPORTING HERE.

Offshore company structures are sometimes marketed to rich businessmen and politically-exposed individuals to avoid or evade tax obligations in their home countries or conceal ill-gotten wealth.

While the two directors of Best International Holding Limited gave their Nigerian address as 17A Wurno Rd, Off Katuna Rd, Kaduna, Nigeria; a Lagos address was used for the registration of a second offshore company.

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Another set of Mossack Fonseca documents seen by PREMIUM TIMES showed that Governor Bello is the sole shareholder of a secret offshore entity by the name Eyre Investments Incorporated.

This company, located in Hitchin, Herts, was incorporated on September 3, 2007 and had Ajibola Raphael Oluyede as director with Abubakar Sani Bello as sole shareholder.

Mr. Oluyede, a senior advocate of Nigeria, is one of the lawyers who defended Senate President Bukola Saraki in his recent corruption trial before the Code of Conduct Bureau.

Investigations revealed that for all his offshore dealings, the governor was using the services of Mr. Oluyede, the principal partner at TRLP LAW, as his legal front.

In one of the documents, it is stated that the registers of Best International Holding Limited are kept at D96 Landbridge Ave, Victoria Island Ext, Lagos, Nigeria. An online search of this address leads directly to TRLP Law office.

Yet another Mossack Fonseca document reveals the minutes of a meeting of the board of directors of Eyre Investments Incorporated. The minutes claimed that the meeting was held on September 3, 2007 and that in attendance were Mr. Oluyede and Mr. Bello.

A letter from UK lawyers on behalf of the Niger governor to Mossack Fonseca hinted that business relationship between Mr. Bello and his lawyer, Mr. Oluyede, was not all smooth sailing. The letter came at a time when the governor was having apparent difficulties in selling off a property he had acquired using his offshore company Eyre Investments Incorporation.

The difficulties arose when the front director either refused to cooperate or was nowhere to be found. It took the UK lawyers, the certificate of incorporation and other documents to have the offshore company returned to Governor Bello.

The letter from Shaima Jillood of the firm Charles Russell LLP to Mossack Fonseca, dated July 3, 2007, reads in part:

“I am the property solicitor acting on behalf of Eyre Investments Inc in respect of the sale of a property Flat 18 Harvey Lodge, Admiral Walk Harrow Road, London W9 3TH. In order to exchange contracts with the buyers and sell this property, we need to establish who is authorised to sign the contract and sell this property on behalf of Eyre Investments.”

Mossack Fonseca was at the time administering Eyre Investments Incorporation after it was transferred to it from ILS Fiduciary Limited (British Virgin Island) on June 7, 2000.

The UK lawyers requested from Mossack Fonseca evidence of the list of authorised signatories, directors, certified copy of passport and the shareholder so as to establish who was legally authorised to sign the legal sale documents. The letter further explained that:

“My client, Mr Abubaker S Bello, has advised us that he is the shareholder of this company but has lost the documentation and has only provided me with the Memorandum and Articles of Association & Certificate of Incorporation but no mention of who the directors or shareholders are and who the authorised signatories.”

When contacted on the propriety of a public office holder holding secret offshore accounts, Jibrin Ndace, the Chief Press Secretary to Governor Bello said that before his principal became the governor of Niger State, he had been for years an international businessman of repute doing legitimate businesses across the world.

“The governor was a well-known international businessman just like Donald Trump was before he became the President of America. It is like if Dangote becomes President tomorrow; you would see their footprints everywhere because they were once international businessmen,” he said.

Mr. Ndace insisted that Niger State is benefiting from Governor Bello’s international business exposure given the foreign investors he has attracted to the state. He however did not provide details of the investments the governor has attracted to the state.

“The difference between this governor and others is that he is a professional in politics not a professional businessman,” Mr. Ndace said.

Violation of Nigerian law?

There is no evidence that Governor Bello is no longer involved with the shell companies. There is also no evidence that the governor declared his interests in the offshore entities to the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) as required by law.

The governor’s spokesperson was evasive when asked whether his boss included the shell companies (with which he has dealt in properties) in the assets declaration form he filed at the CCB. Mr. Ndace merely insisted that the governor’s imprint as an international businessman cannot be easily erased.

While not all owners or operators of such offshore entities are criminals, participating in the running of private companies while serving as public officials is against Nigerian laws.

Section 6(b) of the Code of Conduct Act says a public office holder shall not, “except where he is not employed on full‐time basis, engage or participate in the management or running of any private business, profession or trade.”

The companies are also believed to own bank accounts. Yet Nigerian public officials owning foreign accounts, either individual or through their corporate interests, is a contravention of the code of conduct for public officials, which prohibits the holding of foreign bank accounts.

The code states: “Any public officer specified in the Second Schedule to this Act or any other persons as the President may, from time to time, by order prescribe, shall not maintain or operate a bank account in any country outside Nigeria.”

This revelation makes Governor Bello the sixth serving Nigerian official who has been shown to own shell companies in offshore tax havens in clear violation of the country’s law.

The others include President of the Senate, Bukola Saraki; former Senate President, David Mark; Senator Ibrahim Gobir (All Progressives Congress, Sokoto East); Senator David Umaru (APC – Niger East); Senator Andy Uba (APC, Anambra South).

The Nigerian government claimed it was investigating the officials as well as other former public officers who popped up in the Panama Papers to have violated Nigerian Nigerians by owning undeclared assets abroad. But the report of the investigation has not been made public and no one has been charged to court.

The former officials the government claimed it is investigating include former Group Managing Director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Abubakar Yar’Adua; former Delta Governor, James Ibori; late former Bayelsa Governor, Diepreye Alamieyeseigha; and late former Minister of National Planning.

Another former NNPC GMD, Funsho Kupolokun, appears to have acquired his offshore assets after leaving office office in 2007.

READ MORE OF OUR GROUNDBREAKING PANAMA PAPERS REPORTING HERE.


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  • Fernando Luis

    APC governor

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  • g_kazaure

    Corruptions cuts across all parties. PDP! APC! We have Dieziani (PDP), We have Bachir the Grass Cutter (APC). Endless and vicious circle that unites our elites.

  • STAND OUT

    Please stop talking about party. Let talk about the people stealing our money. Let come together for the recovery of the money

    • 0tile

      In reality no one expected Buhari’s APC Party to be this corrupt. If this looter was from another party Buhari would have declared civil war. Partiality is evil.

      • Abate Dokpu

        Did you read the story? Check the story again to note that all this happened before the man became governor. The story did not make any allegation that the money was stolen from anywhere.

        • Alhaji

          How about Lawal Babashit, the 400million grass cutter? Did he cut his grass during Jonathan regime? There is no difference between Abacha and Buhari in terms of corruption.

          • bola

            You need to check yourself if you see no difference between Abacha and Buhari

    • kevenreal

      Premium Times is evil propaganda tool for Yorubas. Has anyone read about the corruption of Tinubu and Fashola on PT before? Its always Igbo and Ijaw. The most corrupt govt in Nig till date was OBJ and Abacha, but PT keeps running headlines on Iwela, Odua and Deziani Madueke, leaving out the real criminals who are Yorubas. This tribal and islamic newspaper think we are fools. Who owns this newspaper and Sahara Reporters? Tinubu the drug lord Chicago certificate forger.

      • Chukwuka Okoroafor

        And haven’t you become worse than Premium Times by injecting tribe into this? If there is a bias, point it out but there is a reason why Diezani and others are being mentioned. They have something to do with corruption as well. What did you want? For them to go free because they are from the South?

        • share Idea

          Deziani has something to do with corruption while Tinubu and Fashola has things to do with integrity- hypocrite

          • Chukwuka Okoroafor

            Where did I say that Fashola and Tinubu had things to do with integrity? Maybe you should brush up on your comprehension skills a bit abi?

        • joe

          That such level of looting as we are witnessing is even possible at all, is because a vast number of our countrymen are thieves themselves. I am wondering why it should matter whether a thief stole from the people of Anambra, Osun or Maiduguri. A thief should be an enemy of every non-thief. But because we have so many thieves among the masses themselves, they show more empathy and less disgust at the perverse level and scale of stealing and crime in Nigerian government.

      • Rev

        I don’t think there will be any governor as corrupt as Tinubu in the memory and history of Old Nigeria!

        • bola

          At least we have seen minister whose corruption beats human imagination. There is no nation in the world without its own corrupt elements but the level determines a corrupt nation

      • GusO

        You just lied. This story is about the Governor of Niger State who is neither Igbo nor Ijaw. Stop being an unabashed tribalist.

      • bola

        Sir, you really hate this man, Tinubu. But, I really like him, sorry ehn

    • Rev

      Let start from the one stolen by Buhari during his stewardship of PTF….and it will be very well worth it the chase. No wonder his Kwaraption campaign is a now a Boko Haram drama
      and as usual. Nigerians have lost total confidence in the charade.

      • GusO

        Didn’t Buhari declare his modest assets publicly when he became President? I haven’t heard anyone challenge his assets declaration. Stop parroting rumors you can’t provide data to support.

        • Rev

          Look at you. So you are the accountant they hired from Kafanchan? My friend go and find a comfortable chair and seat down.

        • ssb

          Really? You have not read or heard about people challenging PMB asset declaration? Then you are from and live in another planet.

  • Gary

    Why is PT just wondering whether the Governor declared these assets with the CCB when they could have filed an FOI Request to the public agency?
    Is this not the same reason that Saraki was indicted and put on trial?

    How about other high ranking public officials who openly run side businesses? Like Army Chief Turkur Buratai and his now-famous snake farm?
    He’s so confident of his lucrative side trade, with which he’ll tell us he purchased his Dubai properties, that he even names internal Army operations against civilians after his pet reptiles – Python Dance, Crocodile Smile.

    It’s their country, they just allow the rest of us live in it. Make una carry go.

  • Apostel

    And now what? nothing will happen! The war against coruption is a frace.

    • labamba

      The war against kwarapshian is only against Diezani.

  • TDaniels2

    Nigerian leaders are crazy, crooked, and lunatics. They steal their people’s money, deny the people good infrastructures, good health care, good education, law and order, then go put the money in another country, to develop that country while their people wallow in poverty and dirt. And guess what Nigerians are too bothered to do anything about it, too content to receive hand downs and little change here and there while the thieves live in wanton opulence not worked for! What a nation, what a people!

  • EdgarLegatt

    Why not wait to confirm from CCB first that he did not declare it before exposing this man to clear danger? This story only makes sense if u prove that the source of funds is illicit or unjustifiable, and if CCB requirements are not met. Simply being mentioned in panama papers is not a crime.

    • GusO

      But owning offshore accounts to dodge taxes via tax shelters is a crime. That’s why people like Gen. Danjuma own tax shelter accounts in Panama and the Caribbean and he has jet planes like other corruptly rich Nigerians registered abroad — to avoid paying taxes to their country.

      • EdgarLegatt

        What u call “Dodge taxes” which connotes some form of criminal intent, others call “creative ways of reducing taxes”, and done right is 100% legal. Perhaps when u make your first billion dollars you may not be as Keen to dash all your hard earned money to the government. I don’t know this governor from a fly on the wall neither do I particularly care, but PT has not done enough to prove criminality. I will never join the bandwagon of those vilifying the rich, being rich and successfully is not inherently a crime. Now if the source of funds is criminal, then that is another ball game altogether, and that is what investigative journalism should try and establish, this report has not done that.

        • Baba B

          Thank you my brother. There are people out there who just believe that to be rich in Nigeria means being a criminal one way or another and it is because of stories like these.

  • Jideofor

    This is the type of northerners that Igbos like but unfortunately he used the over opinionated loud mouth Yorubas and got caught. If it were an Igbo man he would be counting his millions yearly off alaba seaport without people knowing the actual owner of the business. I like it when northerners are corrupt and not fighting against the institutionalization of corruption to help Nigerians get things the easy way. We should enhance and modernize a way forward for the institutionalization of corruption in Nigeria that will also prosper Nigerians, boom our economy make money to enlarge our pockets without the citizens feeling it. Only Igbo president can institutionalize a progress form of corruption in Nigeria that will carry all citizens along. Vote Igbo man for president.

  • Tijani

    Premium Times reportage is not well versed in law. A company irrespective of where it is registered or operated is a separate legal person from any shareholder, promoter or director. Will it be better for Nigeria if public officials wind down their businesses on assumption off public office and cultivate idlesness and looting? Dullardeens

    • GusO

      Tijani, they don’t have to wind down their businesses, they put their businesses in a blind trust and let someone else run it. Does he have to run his real estate business by himself when he has agents running it already.

      • Tijani

        Oh I couldn’t agree more. Blind trusts are the accepted norm. Until half baked Nigerian media accuses administrators of blind trusts of “fronting for” the original owner. That’s why I say Premium Times (surprisingly) is not well versed in law.

        • Dee Law

          @disqus_fV9nEiMJb0:disqus,

          Premium Times reportage is correct on all points. A trust deed when executed must always

          have and state an ultimate beneficiary no matter how a deed is disguised with legalese;

          and an ultimate beneficiary of funds in a trust deed is the owner of those funds in law,

          regardless that his trustees, like caretakers, can sue on his behalf, and so, where

          a government official executes such a trust deed the official must declare his

          or her beneficial interest in the assets comprised in the deed to the relevant

          authorities in Nigeria, including the Code of Conduct, because an asset

          does not become non-disclosable because it is situated overseas,

          or because it is coy;y handed over to trustees on secret terms.

          • Tijani

            Premium Times has not provided a single shred of evidence that Governor Bello has not disclosed his beneficial interests. Besides, a fellow that engaged lawyers openly to secure a historical asset, cannot be alleged in all good faith to be hiding that same asset. Except in sensationalist Nigerian focused media.

    • arewethishopeless

      Has to be declared …

      • Tijani

        Where is the evidence that the fellow did not declare it?

  • musa aliero

    Stop wasting your time reporting this. They won’t investigate or arrest an apc governor in Nigeria while he is a member of the ruling party. Babachir what happened to him?? What about oke?

    • Tor Tinja

      Has he lost his immunity? Don’t be beclouded by anger.

    • bola

      Babachir is still suspended, Oke is not APC member. An APC former governor of Bayesa, Sylver, was charged to court and 48 houses was confiscated but freed by the corrupt judges. I still believe PMB is far better than GEJ. i blame the judiciary for your anger.

      • musa aliero

        The houses were given back to stover because he is now in apc by EFCC. Why haven’t they appealed it? Stop blaming the judiciary for the hypocrisy of this APC government. They were singing anti-corruption yet they still fielded him as their candidate in 2016 elections! Rubbish

    • AryLoyds

      The governor is a blue blood , nothing will happen to him !

  • Hogg

    DEAR EDITOR,

    Muhamadu Buhari is not fighting corruption. Buhari is the only president who did not act on the Panama Papers revealing massive money laundering by Nigerian government officials. That is one of the reasons Nigeria is globally rated today as exactly as corrupt as it was under Goodluck Jonathan. After two years without making an impact it should have been obvious to Nigerians that Buhari is the worst electoral choice Nigerians have ever made moreso that Buhari has no core competence at doing anything; neither knowledge nor understanding.

  • ???????¾

    @Mrd77:disqus

    Will Muhamadu Buhari ever have the moral courage to fight corruption? I doubt it.

    • agbir

      Don’t despair

  • Kenny

    A thieving Governor who embarks on offshore trips every two weeks. Our journalists are not working. Nothing is happening in Niger state. As of yesterday he has not awarded any road project as contained in the state’s 2017 capital expenditure framework.

  • thusspokez

    Politicians will always be corrupt, but punishment must follow every crime. This is why I always blame the inept law enforcement agencies for why corruption continues to flourish in Nigeria

    President Buhari’s biggest error in his crusade against corruption is to rely on existing corrupt institutions and organisations to fight corruption. It is like using muddy water to wash ones linen and still expect them to be clean.

    Stage #1 of Buhari’s war against corruption should have started with the cleansing and reform of the EFCC, Code of Conduct Bureau. Nigerian Police, Nigeria Custom Service, etc., ready for stage #2 which involves the actual fighting of corruption in the general public work and life.

    • Tor Tinja

      Our corrupt politicians would not have allowed him to do that either. You can see that such politicians and their active collaborators at the National Assembly are already attenuating laws that seem to be harsh to corruption. And you know, PMB can no longer rely on the promulgation of decrees to govern Nigeria. It is truly sad.

  • Es3

    APC…Chains!!!