The Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Godwin Emefiele, has said that he did not benefit financially from the three companies linked to him and Jim Ovia, the chairman of Zenith Bank, in tax havens.
He said the offshore firms were entirely arranged by Mr. Ovia and that it was the Zenith Bank chairman alone who reaped from the ventures.
Mr. Emefiele said he only served as director and shareholder of the companies in response to Mr. Ovia’s request.
“At no time did our client derive any personal financial benefit from shares in Vitesse or Oviation Asset Management Limited (“OAML”) or from his directorship of OAML,” Mr. Emefiele said through his London-based lawyers, New Media Law LLP.
“When acting in relation to these companies our client was not acting for his personal financial benefit. Our client acted throughout in relation to Vitesse and OAML at the request of Mr. Ovia.”
PREMIUM TIMES had, as part of its ongoing Paradise Papers series, reported on Monday that Mr. Emefiele, a former managing director at Zenith Bank plc, partly owned Vitesse Asset Management SA, incorporated in Switzerland in 2007; Oviation Asset Management Limited, a Bermuda company established in 2009; and Oviation Limited, an Isle of Man company incorporated in 2012.
That revelation emerged following a review of data obtained by German newspaper, Suddeutsche Zeitung, and the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists from two offshore secrecy providers (Appleby and Asiaciti Trust) and 19 secrecy jurisdictions.
The CBN governor, while responding to an enquiry sent to him by The Guardian UK on behalf of PREMIUM TIMES and other ICIJ team members working on the investigation, said after he resigned from his position in the companies following his appointment as CBN governor, Mr. Ovia became the sole beneficiary in the businesses conducted by the shell companies.
He however said even before his resignation and departure from the companies, he enjoyed no personal financial interest from the deals.
Mr. Emefiele said through his lawyers, “We now refer to the bank account that was opened by OAML (Oviation Assets Management Limited), maintained and operated for the sole purpose of supporting the aircraft ownership and operating structure.
“Our client had no personal interest in any funds in this bank account. As you clearly hold (improperly) some of the banking information relating to this account, you will be aware that there are no transfers that have been made that would benefit our client.
“You have referred to two account transfers of $5.75M and $3.75M from OAML to accounts in the name of Zenith Bank Plc (the “Bank”) in April 2014. These transfers relate to the proceeds of the sale of the Challenger 300 aircraft previously acquired and owned by OAML and the proceeds of that sale were remitted to a sole account (and not two as you have incorrectly referenced) in the name of the Bank, held at Citibank.
“Our client understands that these transfers were made to an account of the Bank for onward transmission to Mr. Ovia who had provided OAML with the funds with which to acquire the aircraft.
“To be clear: our client did not benefit from these transfers.”
Documents show that the CBN governor and Mr. Ovia each held 50,000 bearer shares in Vitesse Asset Management, which in turn owns 100 percent of the shares in Oviation Limited.
In Oviation Asset Management Limited, Mr. Emefiele held 49 percent of the shares while his ally, Mr. Ovia, owned the majority 51 percent stake.
According to the records seen by this newspaper, Messrs Emefiele and Ovia, between 2007 and 2012, incorporated the three offshore firms which were then used to acquire luxury jets and move funds around in cyclical manners suggestive of tax avoidance schemes.
The shell companies have no offices or fixed address, staff, computers or telephone lines in the countries their are based. Their major operation seemed to be shuffling of assets among themselves or loaning millions of dollars to each other in a cyclical manner.
In January 2013, Oviation Limited acquired a $33 million Gulfstream 450 jet using a loan from Vitesse Asset Management SA. In 2014, a curious $9.4 million transfer was made by OAML to an account in the name of Zenith Bank plc.
On 14 September 2015, OAML transferred about $3.9 million to UBS AG Account 54648101 claiming to be repaying a loan it took from Oviation Limited.
Two months later, OAML acquired another aircraft, a $51 million G550 jet with registration number M-MNDG and imported it into the Isle of Man where Oviation Limited is domiciled. The island’s aircraft registry shows the company claims it continues to lease the aircraft.
But Mr. Emefiele said he ceased to be a shareholder in the companies, particularly OAML, upon his appointment as CBN governor and took “all the appropriate steps” to transfer his shareholding in OAML, adding that he resigned as a director in May 2014.