Mossack Fonseca, the embattled Panama-based law firm at the centre of the global offshore leak known as Panama Papers, has recused itself as the registered agent of Sutton Energy Limited (SEL), a shell company co-owned by Laolu Saraki, younger brother of Nigerian Senate President, Bukola Saraki, and Kojo Annan, son of a former United Nations Secretary General, Kofi Annan.
The law firm said it was withdrawing its services due to what it described as “adverse findings” on Sutton, PREMIUM TIMES can report today.
Following a PREMIUM TIMES report, which was part of the Panama Papers investigation exposing the hidden assets of the Saraki family, Carmen Batista, an employee at the corporate head office of the offshore provider, wrote to Afrex Sal, the Geneva-based administrator of Sutton Energy Limited (SEL), announcing the decision of the company to resign as its registered agent.
The original email, however, did not provide further details other than the claim of adverse findings against the younger Saraki and Mr Annan.
But in another correspondence to the company’s Geneva branch, referencing a letter of protest written by Mr Annan’s lawyer, James Palmer of Omnia Strategy LLP, another employee of Mossack Fonseca, Saran Persaud, said the company was cutting links with SEL because its owners were involved in alleged corruption and false declaration of assets.
“We are resigning due to negative findings associated with Messrs. Kojo Annan and Laolu Saraki, affiliated with the company as directors and/or shareholders. The PEP’s are alleged to have failed to disclose assets as required by the legislation in their country, along with allegations of corruption,” Mrs Persaud wrote.
“As per our company policy approved by the Board of Directors, we will not continue to act as Registered Agent for companies with PEP’s where adverse results are found/linked, due to the elevated risk associated with such persons. This is notwithstanding that an official verdict may not have been reached by the courts,” Mrs Persaud explained further in the email dated January 30, 2017.
After the original letter from Mr Batista, Mr Palmer sent an email to the now defunct offshore provider expressing shock at its sudden decision to cut ties with SEL despite their “longstanding association.”
He added that SEL would not accept the resignation without further details of particular “adverse findings” it claimed.
He said the decision of Mossack Fonseca was even more shocking because its branch in Geneva that morning assured Mr Annan that they found “no issues with the retainer.”
“Your Geneva office holds the day-to-day relationship with SEL and if they can’t find no issue then our client is left at a loss to understand what it could be,” Mr Palmer argued.
Mr Palmer added that Mr Saraki was no longer involved with the company as far back as August 2008.
“The extent that the notice is connected with anything that Mr Saraki may have done since August 2008 then this would be a decision made on a mistaken assumption and should be reversed.
“Finally, SEL and its shareholders have been left confused and concerned by this turn of events. We all want to see a swift solution and look forward to hearing from you by close of business,” he wrote.
Through the exchange of emails between Mossack Fonseca’s Panama office, its branch in Geneva and Mr Palmer, it was also revealed that Afrex Sal, a client company, which had been the administrator for SEL was no longer interested in acting in that role.
Panama-based Afrex Sal is a shell company which was a client company for Monaco-based Ovlas Trading co-owned by Sayyu Dantata, the brother of Africa’s wealthiest man, Aliko Dangote and Patrice Alberti.
It runs in the family
During the 2016 Panama Papers investigations, PREMIUM TIMES had reported that the Saraki family owned a string of assets in tax havens which the Senate President failed to declare as required by Nigerian law.
The younger Saraki, documents show, is linked to a number of shell companies in offshore destinations among them SEL.
Another is Polly Capital Holdings Ltd registered in Niue, a small island nation in the South Pacific Ocean. After being the sole owner of the company for a number of years, Mr Saraki sold half of the company to a one Richard Pembroke.
Similarly, Mr Saraki co-owned other offshore companies with Mr Annan and other associates: Obi Asika, Olufela Ibidapo who are all known figures in Nigeria.
Messrs. Saraki and Annan hold equal shares of 25,000 in Blue Diamond Holding Management Corp. The duo, along with Mr. Asika, also own SEL, registered in the British Virgin Island.
Mr. Asika owns 15,000 units of shares, the same amount owned by Messrs. Saraki and Annan. Mr. Asika was a senior special assistant to former President Goodluck Jonathan.
Mr. Annan sits on the board of another of Mr. Asika’s company, Dragon Africa. Additional documents show that the trio – Messrs Saraki, Annan and Asika – also co-own Sapphire Holding Ltd., a company located in Samoa, a tiny Island of an estimated 194,320 people in the South Pacific.
Company documents also indicate that Ensol Limited (Environmental Solutions), registered in the Republic of Seychelles, with registration number 028376, partly belongs to Mr Saraki.
The company is co-owned with Ama Annan, a relative of Mr Annan, who was appointed director on May 19, 2006 but ceased to be director on July 2, 2008. Mr. Ibidapo, was then appointed to replace her on January 4, 2010.
Mr. Ibidapo is a top employee at Heritage Bank, a successor bank to the defunct Societe Generale Bank of Nigeria, largely owned by the Saraki family but whose operational license was revoked by the Central Bank of Nigeria in January 2006 following the re-capitalisation policy in the banking sector.
The bank however returned with a new name (Heritage Bank) in 2012 following the order of the Federal High Court compelling the central bank to restore its operational permit after it declared that it had amassed the required capital base to return to business.