Paradise Papers: Zenith Bank’s chair, Jim Ovia, offers to refund £11 million tax he allegedly avoided

Jim Ovia
Chairman of Zenith Bank Plc, Jim Ovia

The Chairman of Zenith Bank Plc, Jim Ovia, has offered to refund £10,892,166 being the total value-added tax payment he allegedly skipped while importing two luxury jets into the European Union.

Mr. Ovia and Godwin Emefiele, Nigeria’s Central Bank governor, were named among a number of personalities around the world believed to have used artificial leasing schemes to avoid VAT on jets imported into the EU.

But in his response to the allegations, Mr. Ovia said although Zenith Bank Plc was an end user of the aircraft, it did not acquire it.

“In order to ensure that there is no misunderstanding, Mr. Ovia has asked us to make clear that no funds of Zenith Bank were used to acquire the aircraft,” Mr. Ovia wrote through his lawyers, Clifford Chance, in a response dated October 27.

“You are aware that professional advice was taken from Ernst & Young LLC at the time of the transaction that VAT was properly recoverable by Oviation Limited. Had the advice been that VAT shouold not have been recovered in full or in part, we are instructed that the company would not have made the relevant claim.

“Oviation Limited has no reason to doubt the original advice, but if that advise were ever to change, we are instructed that Oviation limited would repay the relevant VAT. This illustrates the good faith at all times of Mr. Ovia.”

The revelations that Mr. Ovia’s companies claimed VAT refunds they do not deserve came to the fore as more than 380 journalists from 96 media organisations in 67 countries scrutinized leaked data obtained by German newspaper, Suddeutsche Zeitung, and the International Consortium of International Journalists (ICIJ) from two offshore secrecy providers (Appleby and Asiaciti Trust) and 19 secrecy jurisdictions around the world.

The leaked 1.4 terabyte data, now dubbed Paradise Papers, contains 13.4 million records and is no doubt one of the biggest leaks in history.

For several months, ICIJ partner media from 67 countries pored over the gigantic data, which cover a period of nearly 70 years, from 1950 to 2016. PREMIUM TIMES is the only Nigerian media organization involved in the investigation.

More than 120 politicians and country leaders, in nearly 50 countries as well as hundreds of business people across the world were identified in the record as users of offshore entities.

According to records seen by this newspaper and other ICIJ partners, Messrs Emefiele and Ovia, between 2007 and 2012, incorporated three offshore entities in tax havens, which were then used to acquire luxury jets and move funds around in cyclical manners that suggested tax avoidance schemes.

The shell companies are 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).

Records show that in January 2013, the two bankers acquired a Gulfstream 450 for $33 million and imported it into the Isle of Man, a European territory, where one of their shell companies – Oviation Limited – is domiciled. Oviation Limited then leased it to another of their companies, which in turn leased it to Zenith Bank.

Helped by Ernst and Young, a multinational professional services firm headquartered in London, Oviation Limited then registered for VAT in the Isle of Man, and used a deferment account to pay and demand refund of £4,239,178.13 VAT.

Messrs Ovia and Emefiele used a similar scheme when they acquired a $51 million G550 jet in November 2015, and similarly ended up pocketing £6,652,988.36 in VAT refund.

Tax experts and journalists believe that the leasing schemes adopted for these transactions were structured to avoid tax, and that tax authorities should demand repayment of the amount.

They said Oviation Limited, not serving any genuine economic purpose, is not a real business and that the transactions it engaged in were artificial. The company does not have an office or fixed address, staff, telephone lines or computers in its Isle of Man location and is not known to offer any service. The company, the experts contend, therefore does not meet the fixed establishment test (HMRC VAT Notice 741A: place of supply of services).

The experts also explained that under EU and UK tax laws, the two jets imported by the bankers cannot be considered as qualifying aircraft, and that VAT cannot be refunded to private individuals, or exempt companies such as banks. Zenith Bank was an end user of the aircraft.

In the wake of the revelations, Mr. Emefiele had sought to distance himself from the transactions, saying he had since resigned from his position in the shell companies and added that Mr. Ovia alone had been the sole beneficiary.

On October 23, the Isle of Man Government announced it has invited Her Majesty Treasury to conduct an assessment of the practice for the importation of business jets into the EU through the Isle of Man, with a focus on the VAT treatment of aircraft leasing arrangements.

The government said it had to take that preemptive step following consistent and coordinated enquiries on the matter by media organisations associated with the ICIJ.


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  • JasV

    You claim to be the CEO of a reputable retail bank yet you do not know
    that £10,892,166 in 2013 will not be the same in 2017. You have fast fingers and you are an intelligent crook

    • Tunsj

      Intelligent crook indeed.

    • Tosin

      It will not be the same only if he’s made to pay with all accruable interests.

      • Paul zadok

        That’s typical Bendelite for you. Fantastically crooked.

        • GusO

          Leave Bendelites out of this. Tell me what section of Nigeria that lack corrupt people

          • Julius

            Hahahahahahaha, so him no be Igbo anymore ?

    • The Optimist

      He should be made to refund the current value of that money, considering inflation and possible acruable profit.

  • Tommy Soto

    Authorities should start making room for two new inmates in Kirikiri Maximum Security Prison.

    • AryLoyds

      In your Dreams , not in Nigeria ! They will be receiving awards very soon.

      • The Optimist

        That’s the paradoxical truth.

        • Julius

          Paradoxical = seemingly absurd, self contradictory. Well said !

          • AryLoyds

            Lol . And who said the Abokis were Dumb, Monkey brains 🙂

      • Hassan Lawal

        ..i love your response..very true..

        • Julius

          Bet you do ! It must be a group or a club thing …right ?

      • Julius

        And they are not even a Yoruba or Hausas !..Poor you, you are not raining insults on them. I wonder why.

        • AryLoyds

          Aboki , wallahi if what they have done is a crime, then please go ahead and arrest them , not a single southerner will weep ! A criminal is a criminal , just like Maina and co .Kaji Ko ?

          • Julius

            Faggot, again I wonder why you are not throwing insults and abuse to them and where they came from. Can you tell us why ?

          • AryLoyds

            You need help , as it is now evident that you have some unusual love for the-same gender . Wallahi mallam take it easy oh 🙂

          • Julius

            Faggot, again I wonder why you are not throwing insults and abuse to them and where they came from. Can you tell us why ?

          • AryLoyds

            Aboki get help , am afraid i cant help you 🙂

          • Julius

            Otile the Faggot, again I wonder why you are not throwing insults and abuse to them and where they came from. Can you tell us why ?

          • AryLoyds

            Wallahi , you are a naughty Boy ! Your imam must be so disappointed after all his hard work 🙂 The truth hurts ,cheer up son 🙂

          • Julius

            lol@ a fag calling somebody a son. The only way you gonna have a son is by buying one from the baby factory in Onitsha. Your husband should have explained that to you… pervert !

          • AryLoyds

            Shame on you USELESS boy , Wallahi you an embarrassment to the religion of islam and your father ! Too bad i cant help you , try and get help in any way that you can. Sorry son 🙂

          • Julius

            ol@ a fag calling somebody a son. The only way you gonna have a son is by buying one from the baby factory in Onitsha. Your husband should have explained that to you… pervert !

  • wazobia decomposition !!!!!!

    “This illustrates the good faith at all times of Mr. Ovia.”

    really????!!!!!

    emefiele,please resign …….

    • Julius

      We don’t do that in Nigeria !

      • wazobia decomposition !!!!!!

        yes o,we sit tighter ………………… even if crook is written all over his face ………………….

        • Julius

          Yes sir !!

  • Sam

    The fear of EU is the beginning of their own wisdom, if this were to be Nigeria govt , they will send Ezekhome to defend the fraud.shame!

    • Hassan Lawal

      ..the original Lawyer for real Criminals..aah.ah

  • realist

    How will our Saraki handle his own short change. He is in position and he will use it to his advantage I trust. The entire Senators are paper tiger, Saraki has caged them, if not this latest is enough to impeached him.

  • utolason

    Common, stop this nonsense claim that Zenith Bank money wasn’t involved. Zenith Bank money was involved because had the VAT been deducted from cost Zenith Bank would have paid a lower lease cost and declared a higher profit and paid more in corporation tax to the government.

    Jim Ovia knew very well that he can’t get away with it in any EU country hence his readiness to refund the VAT should he be required to do so. If it was Nigeria he so cheated, he would have been insisting he had done nothing wrong and threatening legal action. Many Nigerian SAN would have queued up to defend him.

  • newday

    That’s why the economy is not benefitting the masse & not growing.. Gains from tax lope holes are not plowed into the economy, to created jobs. Rather, they are sunk into even more safe havens around the globe. PMB is not sophisticated enough to understand the criminal manuvring of those working for him, although he knows that the masses get continuously screwed..

    • Hassan Lawal

      ..i like that part..the president is actually not sophisticed enough..i agree with you, we actually voted with a single item on our minds.. just anti-corruption! and actually to govern a modern state like Nigeria ,with positive economic result..we need more than that..

  • Dead End.

    Had it been that allegations were discovered in Nigeria; he would have hired tens of fellow crook S.A.Ns, and they will start to proof legal jagons; then adjournments, jurisdictions, and so many legal innuendos would have followed until the case is thrown out, but these wicked soul knew he could not try that in Europe; now he’s offering to pay a whopping eleven (11)million pound sterling back. Yet, he’s claiming that Zenith bank funds were not involved. Do you think we are all “Muguns” Do you want to tell us that if the actual profit was declared the dividends of the shareholders wouldn’t have been higher, and the costs of day to day expence of the bank would have been lower; which could have create avenue for higher job creation for the teaming nigerian youths.. ‘Oga I beg we self go school oh” Make you park for one corner Joor..

    • PolyGon2013

      And the ibos would have called it witch-hunting, if this had happened in Nigeria.

      • Okokondem

        You couldn’t resist injecting tribalism you half-witt.

      • Julius

        They will still call it witch hunting, remember they don’t like the British other than boasting about their language, English grammar !

  • The Optimist

    This peaceful refund is good for our economy. At least, it does not involve going through the corrupt processes of the judicial system. But a thief is a thief: should he make the refund and be let off the hook just like that?

    • share Idea

      Please do not be deceived, we are talking about UK and not Nigeria….the VAT claimed was against UK government, and his offer of repayment is for UK authority. Nigeria we hail thee

    • FineBoy

      Not Nigeria

    • GusO

      No, this is not to Nigeria. Mr. Ovia and Mr. Emefiele avoided Nigeria so as not to pay Nigeria any taxes. They thought that going through Isles of Man will save them from paying taxes but with the transaction now under investigation since their company have no office, officials, telephone lines, etc.,in Isles of Man, Mr. Ovia is frightened he will be prosecuted by British Authorities, hence his change of heart. I wish the British prosecuted both of them. They’re a bunch of greedy and unpatriotic Nigerian financial elite who always believe that their personal financial interests supersedes Nigeria’s public interests.

  • TAWANDA INCOMMUNICADO

    Tax avoidance within the confides of the law is immoral but not illegal. The wealthy do exploit loopholes in tax laws to avoid tax all over the world so if Ovia has chosen to refund this huge amount , he deserves some appreciation unlike the Senate boss who is still accumulating at the expense of the country and banking off-shore as he propagates the interest of his klepto-dynasty.

    • So oju abe niko

      Actually, he deserves a knock on the head if he returns any money to the EU. “Isle of Man” is specifically open for this kind of business. Everyone knows the score. Every now and then, there would be a leak and everyone would run for cover and the applicable government leaders/spokepersons will feign a moral outrage. The wind will blow over, and the business will continue as usual possibly in another tax haven. What business has Oviation transacted in the “Isle of Man” other than maintain a post-office box to screw Nigeria. The entity that deserves the refund (morally, not legally) is Nigeria. If Ovia pays Nigeria that VAT voluntarily, then he deserves appreciation.

      • John Abayomi

        wa gbayi jare ore, world over the middle class (working in a formal organisation and civil service) has always been at the receiving end of these scumbags, note that 99% of the time, they rode of the back of the poor to amass their stinking wealth, the funny thing is, aside from robbing the populace of decent living through Tax avoidance, idiots such as the ones identified in write up will expect government in Nigeria to bail out their banks/organisations they have additionally scammed through orchestrated schemes, I just taya for these people, say for the likes of Bill & Melinda Gates, I would have given up totally on humanity, but at the end of the day, Bill and Melinda are caucasians who understands the transient nature of our existence on earth, the likes of the two fools identified in this write up and many others, who are unfortunately abound in the dark continent called Africa are the bane of human calamity that pervades the length and breath of Africa

  • So oju abe niko

    Again, the headline is misleading: “Oviation Limited has no reason to doubt the original advice, but if that advise were ever to change, we are instructed that Oviation limited would repay the relevant VAT…” He claimed he took VAT based on advise from Ernst & Young, and would repay if Ernst & Young changes the original advise, like that is going to happen. They did nothing illegal, so E & Y is not going advise a U-turn. The issue is more of a moral/ethical issue than legal misdemeanor. In reality, the actual entity being screwed is Nigeria, and not the EU (Isle of Man) where Oviation has no genuine business other than a post-office box.

    • GusO

      He is returning the money not out of his good heart but because he is frightened that when the investigation of the matter is completed by the UK, he is likely to be recommended for prosecution. Just because a consultant, in this case Ernst & Young advised his fake company that he could avoid paying VAT does not mean he is safe from prosecution if the advice turns out to be wrong. It’s the same as when your tax accountant says you are entitled to paying less taxes or no taxes and the government or court finds that the accountant was wrong. It is not the accountant that’s liable to pay your taxes and any resulting prosecution but you. Ernst &Young is an accounting firm. I can’t believe that there are always Nigerians defending corruption either because they’re related to the accused or somehow benefit from the accused. Mr. Ovia and Mr. Emefiele are crooks. Many Nigerians have so much skeletons in their cupboards that you don’t know who to trust in making appointments. It’s very daunting and try as hard as President Buhari did in not appointing his ministers in a hurry when he assumed power so that he could carefully vet them, he still appointed may Federal Ministers with hidden skeletons in their cupboards.

  • Frank Bassey

    Those Nigerians implicated in this report are in full trouble. The only thing that will save them is if a Buharist is found to be included. In that case, the matter will go the way of Babachir Lawal and Maina.

    • Keen Observer

      To be complete, Babachir, Maina & Baru….lolz…..

    • Julius

      You can insert his name on the list so you won’t have to keep hoping and praying. Easy does it biko and you will have something that fits your narratives and to rant about for years !

      • Frank Bassey

        Garb of the disillusioned!

        • Julius

          That’s all you have. Pity you all !

  • Arabakpura

    They say cleanliness is next to godliness, but, there appears to be no clean man in Nigeria! How then can there be godliness? Even amongst those in the God business; how can there be salvation in this state?

  • dami

    Jim Ovia’s pride is second to none…this statement is more to show that “hey I have the money” than being one of remorse and trying to rectify a bad mistake….what an oaf he is.

    • alexis

      I’m just wondering who’ll pay off the accrued interest and why a tax evader’s still CBN governor…

      • Julius

        Good question.

  • yahay

    I tell you something, true true we are the enemies of ourselves almost 95% of Nigerians are not Sincere to their country.”the govt.cheat, the judiciary cheat,the legilathiefs,the police,the armed forces,the Academicians,the business Nigerians evade tax,even the poor will cheat on his fellow poor the religious clerics etc etc etc…. in fact the whole system is riddle with rods”..Nigerians I swear even God Almighty will not help people that are extremely wicked to their selves..the sooner we change our attitudes,the better for us and the yet unborn Nigerians.

  • Julius

    Stop wearing your mother’s clothes . Fag !

    • AryLoyds

      I have never insulted your mother , just your father. But i guess thats the way you were brought up. What a useless boy. Even your holy book cant cure you

      • Julius

        Otile,Stop wearing your mother’s clothes . Fag !

        • AryLoyds

          Aboki Wallahi , you are finished . You are a deprived cretin! And i thought all animals were suppose to be in the ZOO

          • Julius

            You need to be locked up in a cell in jail with a dog.