Saraki in fresh troubles over hidden family assets uncovered in tax havens

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Nigeria’s Senate president, Bukola Saraki, is stepping into another round of troubled water over undeclared offshore assets belonging to the Saraki family in secret offshore territories.

These newly discovered assets, were never declared to the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) as required by Nigerian laws. The revelation was made possible by internal data of the Panama-based offshore-provider, Mossack Fonseca, obtained by the German newspaper, Süddeutsche Zeitung and shared by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) with Premium Times and over 100 other media partners in 82 countries.

Last year, the CCB slammed charges against Saraki for alleged failure to declare some of his assets in Nigeria. Under the code of conduct law, a public office holder is required to declare his own assets, those of his wife as well as assets in the names of his children below the age of 18.

In one of his asset declaration forms, posted online, Saraki listed property owned by his wife, Toyin Saraki, to include a plot of land at Lekki valued at N5 million and two other property at 15 Bryanston Square, London W1 and 69 Bourne Street, London.

Toyin Saraki
Toyin Saraki

However, the foreign consortium of investigators claimed it had uncovered a hidden property in the name of Toyin Saraki in London, which was left out among the assets declared by the Senate President.

The hidden property is located at #8 Whuttaker Street, Belgravia, London SW1W 8JQ. It has title number NGL802235. Similarly, the Senate President stated in his assets declaration form that his wife held an account in Eco Bank, Broad Street, Lagos, where she had N1.5 million at the time he became governor in 2003.

But in the fresh documents, Mrs. Saraki main-tained an account in Coutts & Co Strand, London, where she owned £450,000 and $125,000 in addition to $3 million in Northern Trust International Banking Corporation Merrill Lynch Pierce Fenner.

Mrs. Saraki was also listed as maintaining substantial shares in European and American Trading Company, Tyberry Corporation and Eficaz Limited just as she held 500,000 shares, valued at £500,000, at P.C.C (U.K) Ltd. He was, however, silent on the number of shares the former first lady had in Haussmann and Tiny Tee (Nig) Limited.

The consortium said it has also discovered that Mrs. Saraki owns some companies in some notorious tax havens. One of the firms, Girol Properties Ltd, was registered in the British Virgin Island (BVI) on August 25, 2004, a year after Saraki became governor of Kwara State.

The second company, Sandon Development Limited, was registered in Seychelles Island on January 12, 2011 and has Mrs. Saraki and one Babatunde Morakinyo (a longterm personal aide and friend of Mr. Saraki) of 11, Okeme Street, Lagos, as shareholders.

While incorporating that company, documents show Mrs. Saraki bought a curious service from Mossack Fonseca & Co, the Panamanian firm that helped her to register the firm.

“The third hidden company in the name of Mrs. Saraki is Landfield International Developments Ltd., a company registered in the British Virgin Islands on April 8, 2014.

It’s registration number is 1819394, while its registered office is 1 Akara Blog., 24 De Castro Street, Wickhams Cay 1, Road Town, Tortola, British Virgin Island,” the report stated.

According to Mossack Fonseca, the registered agent of the company, as at January 27, 2015, Mrs. Saraki was sole shareholder and beneficial owner of the company which had two nominee directors – Glaisd Alie Limited and NewGombe Limited – both appointed on September 2, 2014.

Perhaps to avoid being identified as the beneficial owner of Sandon, the Senate President’s wife asked Fonsecca to provide nominee directors for the company. Nominee directors are sometimes used in tax havens to conceal real owners of companies and assets.

She then made an undertaking indemnifying the Panamanian company “in respect of all claims, demands, actions, suits, proceedings, costs and expenses whatsoever as may be incurred or become payable by you in respect of or arising out of any member or employee or associate of your company or associated companies holding any office, directorship or shareholdings in the company or by reason of or in consequence of any act or decision made by any such person or company in connection with the management and/or administration of the said company.”

Shortly after the company was incorporated, Mrs. Saraki used it, in July 2011, to buy the property on Whuttaker Street, Belgravia, London SW1W 8JQ.
The property, acquired from Renocon Property Limited, a company registered in the British Virgin Island, was never disclosed to Nigerian authorities as required by the country’s code of conduct law

But the Senate President has said that he has fully complied with the provisions of the law on declaration of assets by public officers.

Saraki, in a statement issued last night by his Special Adviser (Media and Publicity), Yusuph Olaniyonu, said he has, in his different asset declarations, included properties owned individually by himself and his wife.

“The property in question forms part of Dr. Saraki’s wife’s family asset. It is public knowledge that Mrs. Saraki comes from a family of independent means and wealth with numerous and varied assets acquired over decades in family estates and investments.

“Furthermore, the law only requires a public officer to declare both his own assets and those held by his spouse and his children under 18 years of age. The law does not require a public officer to declare assets held by the spouse’s family.

“It is not expected by the law that a public officer should declare such assets held in the spouse’s family estate. Indeed, the Code of Conduct form does not make provision for declaration of spouse’s family assets,” he stated.

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